Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice may have been sorry, but nothing was sorrier than his team's abysmal offensive performance in a 55-37 rout at the hands of No. 16 Louisville on Tuesday night at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
"I should be out in the parking lot apologizing," Rice said after his team established season-lows in both points scored and field goal percentage (29.5). "It's as simple as that. I want to apologize to the students, the alumni, the people who came out. It's a shame. Our fans have pride in Rutgers and it's sad their guys and their coaching staff couldn't pull off a better performance."
The Scarlet Knights (13-14, 4-11 Big East), who lost their third straight and eighth in their last nine games, scored their fewest points since also notching 37 in a 60-37 loss to DePaul on Jan. 13, 2007. And you'd have to go all the way back to Feb. 18, 1959, for their previous worst, a 36-point effort in a 38-36 defeat against Lehigh.
"I told them, 'Great season,'" Rice said. "You tried your hardest. Good luck to the seniors. We'll just pack it in. It’s an interesting point. I've never had a team do that on me."
Rutgers’ offensive gaffes came early and often in the first half. The Scarlet Knights turned the ball over on their first three possessions, and trailed 20-3 with 10:50 remaining in the opening stanza after going just one for their first 10 from the field.
"It's completely discouraging," Rice continued. "I told them, 'Great season. I love all of you.' We [huddled and] said, Love on three.' I heard a couple of guys groaning, but it's too hard for them."
Despite facing top-25 teams on seemingly a nightly basis, Rutgers had fought valiantly their last six games, dropping five of them by an average of only 4.2 points. But the Scarlet Knights would’ve made James Naismith cringe in this one.
“It’s very frustrating,” said senior guard Mike Colburn, who went 1-for-5 from the floor and scored just three points. “To really come into this game and give that type of performance where we didn’t play the way we normally play is disappointing. On offense, we had no ball movement.”
Rutgers’ zone defense finally settled in during the second half, holding Louisville to 6-for-23 shooting. The Scarlet Knights, who trailed as many as 19 in the first half, closed to within 39-30 with 9:37 remaining in the final period, but their offense sputtered from there, managing just two field goals, one of which coming on an uncontested layup by freshman guard Austin Carroll with 10 seconds left in garbage time.
“Yeah, [we don’t have anything left in the tank at this point],” said senior forward Jonathan Mitchell, who mustered a mere four points on 2-for-8 from the floor. “It’s frustrating because I am one of the seniors and I do have three [or] four games left in my career.
“It’s frustrating. Maybe [coach is trying to] send a message, maybe [his feelings are] it’s true. I don’t know what his method is at this point. All I can do is play my game and on Sunday come out with a win.”
Rice was confounded by his team’s lackluster effort, considering they had what he called “a spirited practice” on Monday afternoon.
“I was fired up yesterday,” Rice said. “We had a great practice yesterday.”
By the end of the first half, though, that fire and intensity was gone from his team as a livid Rice raced to the locker room with the Scarlet Knights trailing 33-19.
“I was trying to give them energy, heart, everything that you need with [freshman center] Gilvydas [Biruta], but it’s difficult,” Rice said. “You can’t control what happens, you can control how you respond.”
Rutgers needs to respond Sunday on Senior Day against West Virginia. Otherwise, everyone will forget about all those gutsy efforts earlier in the season.
“It’s gut-check time,” Rice said. “Tonight we fell down a hill, and we never had a chance to see the top. The climb was too hard tonight.”