New York – Senior forward Austin Johnson (Elkins Park, Pa.) gave a career performance, scoring 18 points on eight-of-13 shooting, but it would not be enough as Rutgers fell to No. 24 Notre Dame, 69-61, in the second round of the BIG EAST Championship.
Johnson added six rebounds in 28 minutes for RU (15-16). Sophomore Myles Mack (Paterson, N.J.) also posted 18 points, adding four rebounds and three assists. Kadeem Jack (Queens, N.Y.) chipped in 10 points and led the team with seven rebounds. The Scarlet Knights were able to take care of the ball, turning the ball over a season-low-tying six times.
Notre Dame (24-8) was led by Pat Connaughton with 21 points on seven-for-10 shooting, including six three pointers. Tom Knight added 18 for the Irish.
Trailing by 14, the Scarlet Knights came out of halftime on a mission, ripping off a 9-0 run over the first 2:36. Johnson started the spurt with a turnaround hook shot and ended it with a lay-up to bring RU within five, 33-28.
The Irish answered with two quick threes, but RU would continue to chip away cutting the margin to five twice more. A Mack jumper at the 13:07 mark put the score at 41-36 and a hook shot by Judge brought RU within two possessions, 52-47, with 6:40 to play.
Notre Dame scored seven of the next nine points to push the lead to 10, 59-49. RU answered with four-straight points, but could get no closer than six for the remainder of the contest.
Notre Dame jumped out to an 18-7 lead over the first nine minutes, as RU struggled from the floor, hitting just three of its first 11 shots. The UND lead ballooned to 16 before Mack hit a buzzer-beating lay-up and the Scarlet Knights headed into the locker room trailing 33-19. For the half, RU converted eight-of-27 shots and sat at minus-eight on the boards.
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- Austin Johnson posted a personal-best 18 points on a career-high eight-of-13 shooting. It marked the third time this season and first since Jan. 9 that the senior has scored 10-plus points.
- For the 23rd time this season and 38th of his career, Myles Mack posted double-figures with 18 points. In the BIG EAST Tournament, the sophomore averaged 18.5 points this season and 14.3 points for his career.
- Mack has hit three-plus three pointers in 13 games this season.
- Kadeem Jack posted double-digits for the fifth time this season and first since Feb. 23 vs. Providence with 10 points.
- Jack paced the Scarlet Knights in rebounding for the 11th time this season with seven boards.
- With four assists, Dane Miller moves into the No. 8 spot all-time at RU with 312 career helpers.
- Rutgers moves to 13-20 in the all-time series with Notre Dame. RU and UND have met four times in the BIG EAST Tournament, with UND leading 3-1. It marked the first time since 2009 the two squads met in the postseason.
- Head Coach Mike Rice drops to 2-3 all-time in the BIG EAST Championship.
- Rutgers moves to 7-14 overall in the BIG EAST Tournament. RU moves to 1-4 in the second game of the tourney.
- The .296 percent shooting from the floor in the first half marked the lowest output over 20 minutes since Jan. 12 vs. Cincinnati.
- The 10 three pointers by UND marked the most by a RU opponent since Boston University on Nov. 20 (12).
- The Scarlet Knights drop to 13-3 when outshooting its opponents.
- Mike Poole has scored 40 of his 135 points at the Garden this season.
- Six RU players scored.
- RU moves to 9-6 when three or more players post 10-plus points.
- Head coach Mike Rice went with the starting lineup of Mack, Seagears, Poole, Judge and Johnson for the seventh-consecutive game.
- Wally Judge owns the longest active starting streak at 24-straight games.
- The six turnovers tied a season low for RU.
COACH RICE: I want to thank my seniors. They showed tremendous heart, especially the young man beside (Austin Johnson) me leaving everything that he had. If it is his last game, wow, what a way to go out at Madison Square Garden and doing everything you possibly can to help your team.
We just didn't play two halves, didn't have any passion or energy or intensity the first half. Coaching staff's had to do cartwheels and cheering and yelling and screaming to get these guys, and when they did respond, that was the Rutgers that we had seen through the last month. It just took too long, Notre Dame's too good of a team.
When we did have it rolling, it seemed Pat Connaughton found the opening tonight and certainly was -- he was very impressive shooting.
Q. Mike, coming out of the gate, was there sort of a change in adjustment to be made from playing DePaul to a totally different team like Notre Dame? Is that part of the problem?
COACH RICE: It's part of the problem because of their pace and the way they implement it, but we fell right into it. We just kind of got lackadaisical, ran with the cutters, never put any pressure on the ball. So we kind of allowed them to dictate in the first half. In the second half, whatever happens, the intensity and the energy and the dictating has to be our way. I thought we did a better job in the second half.
Q. Mike, with Connaughton, was it more of them running things more or losing sight of them?
COACH RICE: Losing sight. When you're running and trapping and doing some things. But three -- I would say, out of the ten shots, seven we just lost him. You can't lose Pat Connaughton. Of anybody, you can't lose him.
Q. Given there was a lack of energy in the first half, what did you or the staff or the other guys in the locker room do at halftime to sort of say we've got 20 minutes left?
COACH RICE: I just questioned their heart. You know the things you do in coaching. Question their pride. Austin spoke up, and I think Jerome spoke up. And, again, they responded. Pressed and did some things to pick up the level of intensity and energy, but, again, it still wasn't enough because, when it got close, when it got two possessions --
I still don't know what happened on the out of bounds. Mike Poole maybe wasn't down far enough, but he'd been there for 30 seconds. He was standing up as they called a foul. I was telling Mike what we're in coming back, and they inbounded the ball. I'm not sure what happened on that. It was my fault, some of the players' fault on the floor for not being aware enough.
That's down six, and that's a critical three that they hit.
Q. Mike, you say, if this is Austin's last game. I guess in terms of the postseason tournaments, what does that mean?
COACH RICE: We'll discuss some things. I know some of the secondary tournaments had called and gauged our interest, and that's something we'll look at as a program. Do we want to do that, or is this going to be our last game. That's just something we're going to discuss.
Q. Austin, obviously, this isn't the way you wanted to end your career, but could you talk about the effort you put in.
AUSTIN JOHNSON: It just came down to the fact I knew these were possibly the last two halves I'd ever play. Playing with these guys, I've been lucky to play under Coach Rice and his staff and some of my teammates.
It's been the greatest year of my life. Even though it's been an emotional roller coaster at times. I just wanted to leave everything out on the court and have no regrets at the end of the day.
Q. A.J., just to follow up with that, could you talk about the emotion of what it was like to walk off the court in a setting after a night you just had.
AUSTIN JOHNSON: I think there was no better place to cap off your college career than playing at the Garden. Everything hit me when I was walking off the court. I knew I would never step back into a game and it was my last time playing with these guys possibly.
Everything came to me at once, and it was a really crazy feeling.
Q. What is it like now knowing that this is possibly the last time you'll be out here?
AUSTIN JOHNSON: It's a numb feeling. I feel like it won't hit me until I'm sitting by myself later on. I just want to tip my hat off to all the other guys who battled. Even though we came up short, I felt like everybody gave it everything we had in the second half.
Q. Mike, obviously, a completely different game for Wally as opposed to what you saw the last time out. Was it just the step up in personnel he faced?
COACH RICE: Again, I thought he was much better in the second half in his attack. He always let the defense hit first, and in great post play, it's a foot battle, and then you have to be the one creating the contact. So you can be balanced and attacking. He just didn't do that. He just let Cooley and Knight and all of those guys knock him off balance, and he just didn't shoot a balanced shot. The second half, he had two or three really good plays. One of them went in, the other two didn't. That's what we saw the other night against DePaul. He wasn't letting the defense take him. They were knocking him off post and knocking him out of position. You can't do that as a defensive player.
Q. When Austin spoke up to the rest of the team, what did that kind of jolt for you guys in the second half to make this into a game?
MYLES MACK: We just thought about this as the seniors, this could possibly be their last game. We're just going to go and play for those guys. They gave us their all from beginning to end. From last year to this year, these guys have been fighting. I just wanted to dedicate it to these guys and go out there and play my hardest.