For only the second time this season, the Rutgers women’s basketball team lost at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
The 66-55 loss to Michigan State was tough to swallow as the Scarlet Knights (15-3, 5-2) try to secure more votes and enter the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The usual starting crew took the floor for Rutgers: senior center Jordan Wallace, graduate student guard Khadaizha Sanders, junior guard Arella Guirantes and junior forwards Tekia Mack and Mael Gilles.
Although the lineup muscled its way down low to score 10 points in the paint in the opening eight minutes, head coach C. Vivian Stringer wasn’t satisfied with the performance.
“Jordan, I don’t know what it was. She seemed to be anxious. Balls were hitting her in the face,” Stringer said at her postgame press conference.
Wallace is usually dominant in the paint, helping the Knights outscore all of their opponents down low. Although Wallace scored only 6 points this time around, Rutgers as a team outscored the Spartans (11-7, 4-3) in the paint by a margin of 34-22.
When it comes to long range shooting, the Knights can usually rely on Mack. Yesterday, she shot 0-of-3 from deep.
“T-Baby (Mack) at times looks like a million bucks, because she’s knocking outside shots,” Stringer said. “But, today, she didn’t knock those outside shots down.”
In the end of the quarter that left the home crowd dissatisfied with several calls, Rutgers trailed 21-14.
Guarantee showed why she has claimed six Big Ten weekly awards, by sinking two-straight three-pointers from the top of the arc, forcing Michigan State’s head coach, Suzy Merchant, to burn the first of her timeouts.
The Spartans responded with several successful scoring attempts, pushing the Knights deeper into a hole. The half left the home team looking like it lost its "pop" somewhere on Route 80 between Piscataway and University Park. The teams went to their locker rooms with the scoreboard reading 38-27 in Michigan State's favor.
In the third quarter, Rutgers showed the importance of persistence and ended the quarter down by 2. Guirantes, the team's leading scorer, scored 16 points in the frame. She can now call herself a 1,000 point scorer.
The Knights began to look like themselves as the quarter progressed. The Spartans’ snipers kept finding their targets, though, leading to a 51-49 score in favor of the visitors at the end of the third.
Rutgers took the lead early in the fourth off a Guirantes lay-up, but those would be the last of the Knights' points until the waning minutes.
Michigan State went on a 9-0 run spanning the majority of the quarter, ultimately burying Rutgers with a final score of 66-55.
A key to the Knights’ success this season has been the infamous “55” press. They did not use it in the loss.
“They had athletes that were quick enough to get the ball down the floor at great speed,” Stringer said. “The distance that we would have to cover, in terms of trapping them, was too great.”
Rutgers will look to get back on its horse with a matinee matchup against Michigan, Sunday, in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines (12-6, 3-4) sit in the lower half of the Big Ten after a three-point loss to Nebraska.
Michigan has a week between games to prepare to host the Knights. Rutgers will also be well rested and be looking to take revenge.
Recognizing the importance of the holiday, Stringer put a positive end on a somber night.
“We, as adults, have got to continue to teach our young people the appreciation that we must have for those who have sacrificed and given their lives," Stringer said. "And, certainly, Dr. King has done that.”