An 18-14 record following a quarterfinal exit in the Big Ten Tournament wasn’t enough for the Rutgers women’s basketball team to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, so it had to settle for hosting a second WNIT appearance in three years.
The Scarlet Knights kicked off the tournament by hosting a first round matchup with Georgetown at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Despite not playing where they hoped to be when the season tipped off, both teams did not want to see their seasons end, playing a hotly-contested game with 12 ties, six lead changes and in which no team lead by more than eight points.
Once the Knights used a 7-0 run to take a 39-34 lead with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter, it appeared it would hold on and end the back-and-forth affair.
But despite trailing by as much as six with 5:53 remaining, the Hoyas didn’t back down. The visitors slowly chipped away at Rutgers' lead, hitting their last four shots as they tied it up at 55 with 28 seconds remaining.
Holding the ball for the final possession, junior guard Tyler Scaife attempted to replicate the magic of her game-winning layup in the 2014 WNIT Championship, but saw her jumper was rejected.
The ball bounced around until it landed in senior forward Kahleah Copper’s hands. The second team all-Big Ten selection went up and banked a shot in off the glass with 0.4 seconds remaining to push the Knights to a 57-55 win over Georgetown Thursday night.
“It feels good to get (the game-winner),” Copper, who finished with 21 points, said. “It was ugly but we got the win, so I’m excited.”
The final quarter began with a move Rutgers (19-14) utilized all night — a pass to Rachel Hollivay in the post.
The senior center led the Knights with a game-high 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting, using her size to her advantage.
“In practice, I was just really focusing on finishing,” Rutgers' all-time blocks leader said. “So I just tried to focus on taking it to the game and it worked out really well.”
The game was too close to call until the final buzzer.
After an opening quarter that saw six ties and three lead changes with a 15 all tie to end it, the Knights ran out with a quick 9-0 run to take the first commanding lead of the game, 24-17, with 5:34 remaining in the second quarter.
But Rutgers was unable to take advantage of the momentum as it allowed Georgetown (16-14) to slowly inch its way back. When the halftime horn sounded, the Hoyas were down just one following an 8-2 run of their own.
Rutgers was able to squeak out of the RAC with a win and advance to the second round of the WNIT, where it will face Virginia at home on Sunday.
The Knights can become first team to win the competition twice after taking it in 2014.
Hoisting the trophy at the end of tournament isn’t the ultimate goal, however. Head coach C. Vivian Stringer wasn’t even aware of the possibility of her team making history come April 2.
Instead, she hopes her team can grow and develop for next season.
“It’s more proving things to ourselves,” the winningest head coach in program history said. “It’s more of us playing great defense and establishing for the freshman, as well as for ourselves, that this is the way the Scarlet Knights play. I think that’s going to be key with Virginia … so we’ll get some rest and go at it again.”