The Rutgers men’s basketball team fell to Hofstra by a score of 88-86 yesterday. The loss knocked the Scarlet Knights (19-15, 10-10) out of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) and ended their season.
Rutgers got off to a fast start and led by a score of 9-2 with 16:28 remaining in the first half. The Pride (25-9, 16-2) responded with a 15-10 scoring run in the following 7 minutes. Though the Knights led the entire first half, they failed to pull away from Hofstra.
Senior guard Cam Spencer played a strong first half, scoring 16 points, shooting 4-6 from beyond the arc and chipping in with four rebounds.
Rutgers led 40-35 heading into halftime.
The early minutes of the second half saw fifth-year senior guard Caleb McConnell break a program record. With 18:21 left, McConnell got his second steal of the game to pass Eddie Jordan for most steals in program history with 221.
"That's a huge accomplishment," McConnell said. "I'm just proud of myself and just proud of the team that I had to be able to do that. I'm lucky. I think I'm lucky. Not everyone gets to do that at a school. I'm just just blessed to be able to stamp my name forever. Here at Rutgers, this place is definitely home."
The Pride continued to score and keep the game close in the first 7 minutes of the second half. With 12:28 remaining, Aaron Estrada hit a three-point shot to give Hofstra its first lead of the game.
Both teams went back and forth in the final 10 minutes of the second half. The Knights picked up momentum when Estrada fouled out of the game with 6:51 remaining.
With 58 seconds left, a second-chance dunk from McConnell gave Rutgers a 3-point lead, and he followed that up with a layup to give the Knights a 5-point lead with 30 seconds remaining.
Tyler Thomas kept the Pride in the game with a contested three-pointer 6 seconds later.
With the shot clock off, Hofstra was forced to foul, and it sent freshman guard Derek Simpson to the free-throw line. Simpson missed the front end of a one-and-one, and after the Pride missed a deep three-point attempt, Nelson Boachie-Yiadom got the offensive rebound and hit a shot to tie the game 74-74 with 2 seconds remaining.
The game then went into overtime.
In overtime, Hofstra’s shooters got hot. The Pride went 6-8 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc in overtime.
Rutgers kept pace with Hofstra in the overtime period but trailed by 2 points with 10 seconds remaining. In the final play of the game, Simpson drove to the paint and put up a floater that would just barely miss to give the Pride the 2-point victory.
With the extended absence of Estrada, Thomas led Hofstra with 25 points, shooting 11-18 from the field.
Simpson and Spencer combined for 41 points for the Knights. The latter stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
McConnell gave a spirited performance in his final game in a Rutgers uniform. McConnell scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists.
The Pride will advance to the second round of the NIT, and for a second-straight year, the Knights enter the offseason after a postseason overtime loss.
"This is a difficult day for me," said head coach Steve Pikiell. "Just really want to talk about our four seniors. These guys came to our program (and) didn't have a winning season four years ago. There were no sellouts. There was no practice facility. These guys, in four years, we've done nothing but win. Four postseason bids. Caleb's national Defensive Player of the Year. He came to me really young and wasn't quite sure of himself. He leaves here as the all-time leader in steals."
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