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RU WBB: Rutgers Lets Win Slip Away Against The Spartans

Rutgers center Rachel Hollivay shooting a free throw in a game at the RAC in January / Photo: JR Martinez, Double G Sports

Rutgers center Rachel Hollivay shooting a free throw in a game at the RAC in January / Photo: JR Martinez, Double G Sports

This one is hard to swallow.

The Rutgers women’s basketball team saw a 14-point lead in the third quarter reverse to a three-point 70-67 victory for the No. 25 Michigan State Spartans Thursday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway.

The Scarlet Knights (16-11, 7-8) were riding high coming into the matchup with three straight wins including two on the road at Penn State and Illinois, and one at home on a last-second layup by Tyler Scaife against Northwestern. But now, all the momentum is stopped and their NCAA Tournament hopes took a big blow.

“We’ve been folding in the fourth quarter, not intentionally, but we obviously don’t have ice in our veins to execute the way that we need to,” Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer said in the postgame press conference.

Rutgers led 17-4 after one, but then Michigan State’s (19-7, 10-5) Ariel Powers, who came in 4th in the Big Ten in scoring (20.7 per game), helped her and her team settle down. She was held in check from the floor shooting 5-for-17, but managed 15 free throws on 17 tries enough for a game-high 27 points to lead the Spartans. She also corralled a game-high 14 rebounds as the Spartans held a 47-39 rebound advantage over the Knights.

“Ariel Powers settled down and she decided she was going to take over like she does all the time…she’s a great player, and the great ones do take over,” Stringer said. “We didn’t demonstrate composure. We didn’t focus.”

Two big blows for the Scarlet Knights late in the game were Kahleah Copper and Rachel Hollivay fouling out. Copper, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds was first to go with 2:51 left in the fourth and the Scarlet Knights leading 63-56. Hollivay followed with 1:08 left. A pair of freshmen (KK Sanders and Victoria Harris) came into the game and didn’t have the experience or the talent to match the seniors. Michigan State went on a 14-4 to end the game and outscored Rutgers 29-17 in the final frame.

“It’s tough not having them because you know Rachel blocks, rebounds, scores, and you know Kah runs the floor,” Scaife said. “It was a big loss having them on the bench, but that’s just apart of the game we have to capitalize without them.”

Stringer added: “For them to score 29 points in the fourth quarter are you kidding? In the fourth quarter and that’s the quarter we know we needed (to clamp down),” Stringer said. “But that’s been our story the whole year, freezing when it comes down to the fourth quarter. I’m not happy…but that’s exactly what happened.”

Scaife led Rutgers with a team-high 22 points on a solid 9-for-18 shooting (50 percent) in addition to three free throws. Senior guard Briyona Canty chipped in with 12.

The dominating center Hollivay had a near double-double of rebounds (10), and blocks (eight) before exiting the game. The Columbus, Miss. native grew her school record number of rejections to 318 for her career and now passed Trish Andrew (Michigan, 1992, 96) for most blocked shots in a single season in the Big Ten with 98 and counting.

“It means a lot,” Hollivay said regarding the accomplishment. “That’s my bread and butter, I really like blocking shots, but I just couldn’t stop fouling tonight.”

Rutgers will have to quickly put this aside and get ready for the next one. However, the loss to a beatable Michigan State squad proves even larger as No. 6 Maryland comes to the RAC this Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

“We don’t have any choice but to approach it fresh because it’s a new game,” Stringer said with her arms folded in disappointment. “It’s over. I don’t know what you say, we just have to come in here and focus on what we need to do.”

Hollivay added: “We have to just come together and regroup as a team and listen to what the coaches ask us to do. We have to lock down on defense next game. We know that the next game is a big game and at the end of the season it’s bound for upsets, so I just feel like if we come in here back to practice and focus we’ll be confident.”

Follow me @ChrisWasky for updates on Rutgers women’s basketball and football.

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWiXHN34VGA

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