PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Jonathan Mitchell has a national championship ring from his freshman year at Florida. Now he has a game-winning shot in his senior season at Rutgers.
Mitchell’s four-point play with less than a second remaining capped a career-high 25-point performance and gave Rutgers a 77-76 victory over No. 9 Villanova on Wednesday night.
“I always tell myself I want the ball at the end of the game. I want it on my shoulders,” Mitchell said. “JB (James Beatty) made a great play, got it to me and I let fly and got fouled.”
Mitchell, who was coming off a career-best 24 points in a loss to Notre Dame, hit a 3-point shot from about 25 feet and was fouled by Corey Fisher. After a Villanova timeout, Mitchell, a 74 percent free throw shooter, hit the tiebreaker.
“After I hit the shot I couldn’t believe it went in,” the 6-foot-7 Mitchell said. “They called the timeout and I decided to calm down, relax, breath. Coach asked me if I wanted to sit down. I’m in the gym shooting at 12, 1 a.m. and I said to myself it’s just another night in the gym with the lights out. I stepped up like a senior and made it.”
Fisher’s length-of-the-court inbounds pass was caught by Maurice Sutton as he fell out of bounds. The Rutgers students poured on the court — nothing like the football fans did after a win over Cincinnati in 2006 — and the celebration was on.
Mitchell, who won a championship ring with the Gators in 2006, had been in court stormings before.
“At Florida I was always on the court because when we lose Coach Donovan would sub for those guys and I knows how it feels to be on that side,” he said. “This was great.”
He said this was one of the reasons he left Florida after his sophomore season.
“I wanted to play in the Big East,” said Mitchell, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y. “I wanted to come closer to home and to be part of something like this where I have a defined role. I want to be part of building this program.”
Fisher had 23 points, went 5 of 7 from 3-point range and had 10 assists and five steals, but he had a miserable final 7 seconds.
He made one of two free throws with 6.3 seconds left, leaving Villanova (19-5, 7-4 Big East) with only a three-point lead. He hit Mitchell as he shot with .8 seconds to go, giving the Scarlet Knights (13-11, 4-8) a chance at the win.
“I went to the line, missed the first. I went up there with confidence,” he said. “I knew they were going for a 3 and me and Tone (Antonio Pena) pressured Beatty and we switched and my hand was in there. He made the tough shot, went to the free throw line and made the shot.
“I was hurt. I’m a captain on this team and we should have won the game. I made a mistake.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright didn’t blame Fisher.
“They caught him right in the split second he was denying the pass and it went through his hands and he fouled him,” Wright said. “It was perfect execution by them. It happens. He was making the right play.”
Rutgers came in on a four-game losing streak and two of those were to top-10 teams (Pittsburgh and Notre Dame). The Scarlet Knights had lost three straight and seven of eight to Villanova, including an 81-65 Wildcats win on Jan. 2.
“We’ve had improvement but in the Big East sometimes no one knows it because you keep on getting the ‘Ls,'” Rice said.
“The single-most thing we’ve improved on this season as a program is the toughness and resolve this team has. It wasn’t very pretty for a lot of the night but they did enough and a senior who is stepping up at the end of his career hit a shot to beat a top 10 team.”
Villanova had won two straight after a two-game losing streak.
The Wildcats, despite shooting 55.8 percent from the field (24 of 43) and 50 percent on 3s (8 of 16), just couldn’t pull away from the Scarlet Knights, who turned in another gritty defensive effort.
“We knew coming in how well they play here,” Wright said. “I thought we played well until there was about 1:35 left. The last four, five possessions of the game we didn’t do anything right and they did everything right.”
Isaiah Armwood made one of two free throws with 2:52 to go to give the Wildcats a 70-60 lead.
Rutgers took advantage of two Villanova turnovers to go on an 8-0 run that featured 3-pointers by Mitchell and Beatty.
James Bell hit two free throws to end the run and give Villanova a 72-68 lead. Mitchell, who had six rebounds, scored on a tip-in with 46 seconds to go but Bell, who scored all seven of his points in the final 6:37, hit a 3 with 11 seconds to go.
Beatty, who finished with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range, hit a 3 with 7.2 seconds left to bring the Scarlet Knights to 75-73, and Fisher missed the big free throw just under a second later.
Pena had 15 points and eight rebounds for Villanova, which finished with a 29-27 advantage on the boards.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.