PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Welcome back, Coach.
Jim Calhoun’s return to the Connecticut bench following a three-game suspension was not a successful one as Rutgers beat the eighth-ranked Huskies 67-60 on Saturday night.
The loss was the second straight for Connecticut and it came just four days after the Huskies also lost in New Jersey, falling to Seton Hall. It is the first time since 1969 that the Huskies have lost to both Jersey schools in the same season.
Calhoun, who led Connecticut to its third national championship last season, missed the first three games of the Big East season for failing to maintain “an atmosphere of compliance” in the program. The NCAA sanctions were over recruiting violations.
The Huskies beat South Florida and St. John’s before the loss to Seton Hall with assistant coach George Blaney running the team.
“We weren’t very well-prepared to play basketball the last two games,” Calhoun said. “I came back for two, three days and it hasn’t made any difference. I am incredibly disappointed in how we’re playing right now. We’re not in sync right now.”
The stat sheet backed Calhoun on that. The Huskies matched their season-low for points and committed a season-high 20 turnovers.
Calhoun wasn’t surprised Rutgers found a way to beat the Huskies.
“After 26 years in the Big East you know you can get anybody anytime any night,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “This Rutgers is a hungry young basketball team that played with a sense of purpose. They’ll lose some more and win some more.”
Eli Carter had 19 points and fellow freshman Myles Mack added 14 for the Scarlet Knights (9-7, 1-2 Big East), who beat then-No. 10 Florida 85-83 in double-overtime on Dec. 29. It’s just the second time Rutgers has ever beaten two Top Ten teams in the same season. The Scarlet Knights beat UCLA and West Virginia in 1981-82.
“I’m pleasantly surprised. Shocked? No,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. “This team has it in them. They’re athletes. They’re just inexperienced right now. When we pay attention to details and we’re communicating, these things can happen.”
The win over Florida was followed by losses to South Florida and West Virginia.
“Maybe we just get a lot of energy when the big teams come in,” Carter said. “We want to prove we’re just as good if not better. We have to do that for every team.”
The win snapped Connecticut’s 10-game winning streak against Rutgers and it was just the Scarlet Knights’ second in 19 Big East regular-season meetings with the Huskies. Rutgers’ last win over Connecticut was on Jan. 30, 2002.
“They more than earned the victory,” Calhoun said. “Especially when you consider they are one of the younger teams in the country.”
Rutgers and its freshmen backcourt ruined Calhoun’s return when it used a 10-0 run in the second half to take the lead for good. Mike Poole and Mack both hit a 3-pointer in the run that gave the Scarlet Knights a 52-45 lead with 7:29 to play.
Connecticut (12-3, 2-2), which has lost two straight after a seven-game winning streak, could never get any offense going, especially from the perimeter against Rutgers’ zone defense and the Huskies finished with a season-high 20 turnovers, well above the 13.9 they average for the season.
Shabazz Napier had 23 points for the Huskies, who matched their season-low for points, while freshman center Andre Drummond had 10 points, 12 rebounds and seven turnovers, including two passes from the post that went into the stands on the fly.
Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut’s leading scorer with an 18.9 average, finished with eight points on 4-of-9 shooting, including missing all four 3-point attempts.
“Our backcourt was not very good tonight,” Calhoun said. “Overall Rutgers ground it out, back and forth and back and forth. We didn’t complete the task and lost a basketball game.”
Mack said Rutgers was just trying to be physical with Lamb.
“He’s not really like a physical guy. He’s really nonchalant,” Mack said. “He doesn’t like it when someone bumps him or whatever, so we just bumped him a little bit and threw him off. “
Carter entered the game averaging 24.3 points over the last three games. He hit a 3-pointer in the Scarlet Knights’ 8-0 run to open the second half that gave them a 36-30 lead.
Connecticut closed within four points three times in the final minute but Rutgers went 8 of 10 from the free throw in that span.
Mack said there is no explaining Rutgers’ ups and downs this season.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” he said. “We just got to do this on a consistent basis. We practice the same every day, we just got to come out for a Top 10 team and a non-Top 10 team every game we play.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.