By Michael Antosiewicz
After an uncharacteristic two game losing streak, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights ( 21-8, 12-6 Big Ten) rebounded Sunday afternoon against Big Ten opponent Indiana (14-15, 4-14 Big Ten) at the RAC. The team played excellent basketball in the second half as they pulled away to a 70-61 victory. Three Scarlet Knights—Kahleah Copper, Betnijah Laney, and Tyler Scaife—finished with double digit figures for scoring. Laney played particularly well as she earned a double-double with 13 total rebounds. Altogether, these team and individual performances provided a proper send-off on senior night for the three seniors Laney, Syessence Davis and Christa Evans.
Although Rutgers dominated the latter part of the second half, the game went back and forth during the first period as each team enjoyed stretches of unanswered scoring. Right out of the gate, the lady Hoosiers hit back to back three-pointers to take an early 6-2 lead. For a moment, given their offensive dependency on three-point shots, the Hoosiers looked poised to dominate on offense. However, their shooting declined as Rutgers began to harden on the defensive end, preventing the Hoosiers from making another three-point shot for 10 full minutes.
With 12:30 left in the first, Rutgers’ stern defense allowed them to accumulate a 17-8 lead. But the Hoosiers fought back and eventually a clumsy turnover by Tyler Scaife, who finished with 16 points, allowed Indiana to take a 21-17 lead. Copper responded with skilled dribbling that led to a layup that was the first Rutgers score after a four minute scoring drought. Rutgers rolled from there to enter half time with a 30 to 26 lead. In the half’s final seconds Davis made a dominating block that set the tone for the second half.
Coming out of the break, Rutgers scored quickly and thoroughly. They played with great ball possession and passed the ball cleanly. Responding to Indiana’s zone defense, which actually took Coach Stringer by surprise, Rutgers employed a very small lineup and allowed Davis to engineer the offense. Davis finished with five assists and only two turnovers. Her play was critical for breaking down the defense’s zone.
One of Davis’ most impressive moments came at a crucial moment with 14:35 left to play. After a Rutgers score, Davis stole the ball on Indiana’s inbound. At this point, the Scarlet Knights secured an 10+ point lead. With 3:58 remaining in the game, Rutgers earned their biggest lead of 19 points for a score of 69 to 50.
Once victory was clinched in these closing moments, Coach Stringer made a nice gesture for her seniors, of which all three scored. She substituted all Evans, Davis and Laney at the same time as they walked off the court at the RAC to enormous applause from the crowd.
To be sure, this senior class deserved this moment according to Coach Stringer. In her post-game press-conference, the coach spoke emphatically and glowingly of this group. Coach Stringer ranked this senior class, despite their smallness in numbers, as one of her greatest ever. “They are not losers,” Stringer said as proceeded to describe these players as “selfless”, to “epitomize team”, and as people who give “max everything”.
However, the closing chapter to this senior class and season has not yet been written as the girls enter Big Ten tournament play this week in Chicago before the NCAA tournament. In order to improve, Coach Stringer said that the team needs to do a better job of converting turnovers into points. Fortunately, over the course of the season causing turnovers has not been a problem for Rutgers, and tonight they finished with 15 steals alone.
As long as what Coach Stringer described as the big three of Copper, Laney and Scaife are in scoring form, Rutgers’ tournament hopes are certainly legitimate. One thing that is for sure is the team’s unwavering mindset. Laney articulated the winning mindset the best with the sentiment that, “once we step onto the floor, its practice”.
Tune into to 88.7 FM or online at WRSU’s stream to hear the Rutgers perform during tournament season.