Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Posted: 10:08 p.m. Updated: 11:36 p.m.
By Reuben Frank
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Jay Wright: I dont think we crumbled.
Actually, crumbled is exactly what Villanova did.
The Wildcats led Rutgers by 13 points with 4:07 left. They led by nine with two minutes left. They led by five with 11 seconds left.
And still they lost 77-76 on Jonathan Mitchells four-point play with 0.8 seconds left in the game.
Rutgers scored 60 points in the games first 37 minutes and 17 in the final 2:41. Rutgers shot 2-for-10 from three-point range in the first 36 minutes and 6-for-7 in the final four minutes.
Rutgers scored seven points in the games final seven seconds.
Tough way to lose a game, Wright said. Down the stretch, we didnt execute. Three-possession game, youve got to make the right decisions, the right plays. We didnt. When youre down nine, youve got to make all the right plays and the right decisions, and they did.
No. 9 Villanova led 67-54 with just over four minutes left before Rutgers woke up. The Scarlet Knights outscored the Wildcats 23-9 the rest of the way.
The Wildcats, who beat Rutgers by 16 on campus on Jan. 2, fell to 19-5 with their fourth loss in their last seven games.
Rutgers, which had lost four straight, improved to 13-11, 4-8 in the Big East and 1-5 against top-20 teams.
The last four or five possessions of the game, we didnt do anything right and they did everything right, Wright said. They made every correct play. Turn over the ball, give up threes, turn over the ball, give up threes. If we dont turn it over one time, were OK. If we turn it over and they dont make one of those threes, were still OK.
As ugly as things were down the stretch for Nova, Corey Fisher still had a chance to put the game away at the foul line with six seconds left, but after he missed the first and made the second, Novas lead was just three.
Wright elected not to foul and send Rutgers to the foul line, a decision he immediately regretted.
Talk about poor decisions -- I made one there, Wright said. We talk about it all the time. Thats one of those times you say, We should have fouled.
With under two seconds left, James Beatty swung the ball to Mitchell beyond the arc on the right wing. Fisher tried to deny the pass to Mitchell, and while his hand was still out in front of Mitchell, the 6-foot-7 senior forward squared up and released his shot.
Fishers hand smacked Mitchells hand, the ball sailed through the net, and just like that, the game was tied.
After a 'Nova timeout, Mitchell sank the foul shot, Villanova couldnt get a shot off, and the Rutgers faithful had their first chance to storm the court since the Roy Hinson Era.
I went to the line and could have won the game, Fisher said. I was confident, but I missed the first, made the second, and we knew they were going to try a three, because there wasnt time for them to go for two.
As I was going to deny Mitchell, the ball was in his hands, and when I was denying, he went up in my hand, made the tough shot, went to the free-throw line and made the shot.
Im a captain on this team, and I think we should have won the game, said Fisher, who had 23 points and 10 assists. I made a mistake, but were going to learn from it, and Im going to continue to get better as a player.
Wright said he had no problem with the way Fisher defended on the possession. He said Fisher did exactly what he was supposed to do.
I dont think it was a mistake, he said. I would say if it was. Youre supposed to deny there. If he went and whacked him, I would say, but he wasnt going to contest the shot, he was trying to deny the pass, the pass went over his hand, his hand was there, and to go through a hand and finish that play is a pretty tough play.
Mitchell finished with a game-high and career-high 25 points, including four in the final second.
I always tell myself, I always want to take the last shot, Mitchell said. I want the game on my shoulders. I just let it fly and the shot went in. Definitely the biggest shot of my life.
After I hit the shot, I couldnt believe it went in. I had to calm down and relax and tell myself, Hey, just another night in the gym when nobodys here and the lights are off. I stepped up as a senior should and hit the free throw.
Villanova lost despite shooting 56 percent from the field (24-for-43) and 50 percent from three-point range (8-for-16).
The Wildcats hurt themselves at the foul line, where they made just 20 of 27 shots. Thats from the No. 9 team in Division I in free-throw shooting.
Corey Stokes, battling turf toe, scored 10 points in the first half but only played eight minutes after halftime and didnt take a shot. He wasnt on the floor during Rutgers comeback.
Antonio Pena made seven of 10 shots for 15 points and added eight rebounds, and Mouphtaou Yarou contributed 10 points and five boards for Nova.
Im obviously disappointed in the outcome, but were going to have to learn from this, Wright said. Even if we won the game, if he doesnt make that 3, we still have a lot to learn from the way we finished that game. Its tough, but its part of playing in the Big East. Youve got to come back.
I thought we played well, we just didnt execute down the stretch, and if you dont execute down the stretch, in this league, youre going to lose.
I dont think we crumbled. I just think they made some great plays.
Things dont get any easier for Villanova, which hosts No. 4 Pitt Saturday night at the Pavilion.
We got Pittsburgh on Saturday, and its a tough team, and were going to go back to practice and learn from our mistakes, Pena said. It is tough, but weve just got to look forward to our next game. Big East, every team is going to come in and play.
Related: Big East Wrap: St. John's knocks off No. 10 UConn Green's triple-double leads Michigan State over PSU
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org