Rutgers didn't let its season end without a fight. The Scarlet Knights just couldn't find a way to stop Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton from 3-point range.
"Losing sight," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said of how Connaughton was able to be open and go 6 of 8 from 3-point range and finish with a season-high 21 points in the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish's 69-61 victory Wednesday night in the second round of the Big East tournament.
"When you're running and trapping and doing some things, but I would say, out of the 10 shots (from the field), seven we just lost him. You can't lose Pat Connaughton. Or anybody, you can't lose him."
It seems a shame the season has ended for the 11th-seeded Scarlet Knights.
They beat DePaul 76-57 in the opening round Tuesday and gave a good effort in the loss to the sixth-seeded Fighting Irish at Madison Square Garden.
The Scarlet Knights were looking to win a second game in the tournament for the first time since 1998. Rutgers is leaving for the Big Ten after the 2013-14 season.
"We just didn't play two halves, didn't have any passion or energy or intensity the first half," Rice said. "The coaching staff 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 he was very impressive shooting."
Senior forward Austin Johnson had a career-high 18 points for the Scarlet Knights (15-16). Rice took him out of the game in the final minute so he could be recognized for his big game.'
"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," he said. "Everything came to me at once, and it was a really crazy feeling."
Tom Knight had a career-high 18 points for Notre Dame (24-8), which will face third-seeded and 12th-ranked Marquette in the quarterfinals Thursday night.
The Irish have reached the semifinals in each of the last three years but haven't been able to get that first tournament title — and this is the Fighting Irish's last chance since they are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
It appeared that it would be an easy second-round win for the Irish, who led by 14 points at halftime and then were able — with Connaughton's shooting the key — to hold off several runs by the Scarlet Knights.
"We were really mature and poised, and in the second half they were coming at us," Brey said. "We made great plays out of timeouts. We defended. We had putbacks. We had great rebounds. We made big free throws. We made big 3s tonight."
Connaughton finished 6 of 8 from 3-point range as Notre Dame, which led the Big East in 3-point percentage (36.9), was 10 of 17 from beyond the arc (58.8 percent).
"The chemistry on this team, everybody likes each other and picks each other up," Connaughton said. "That's helped me keep the confidence and keep shooting. That's something they've been on me to do."
Myles Mack had 18 points for Rutgers, which was 4 of 15 from 3-point range and 5 of 11 at the free throw line. The Irish were 15 of 19 from the free throw line.
Rice was upset with the way the Scarlet Knights played in the first half.
"I just questioned their heart. You know the things you do in coaching. Question their pride," Rice said of his halftime talk. "Austin spoke up, and I think Jerome (Seagears) 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 to two possessions."
Notre Dame, which came into the tournament having lost two of three, led 33-19 at halftime but the Scarlet Knights opened the second half on a 7-0 run. Jerian Grant and Connaughton both hit 3s to open the lead back to 11.
Rutgers got within 41-36 with 13:23 to play only to see Connaughton hit a 3 that started a 6-0 run. He did it again with just under 9 minutes to play when he buried a 3 just after Rutgers had gotten within 49-43.
Wally Judge led the Scarlet Knights in the win over DePaul by tying a Big East tournament record by going 9 for 9 from the field and finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. It was a lot different against Notre Dame for Judge, who was 1 for 6 from the field and had two points and one rebound.
"He just let Cooley and Knight and all of those guys knock him off balance, and he just didn't shoot a balanced shot," Rice said. "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."