Winning is the best feeling in basketball.
Atonement? Almost as good.
So when Christian Garcia threw away an inbounds pass with his team trying to protect a two-point lead over Whitworth in the final 3 seconds of overtime, the Rutgers-Newark guard did the only thing that could make up for it: He stole the ball back.
Or at least he knocked it loose from the Pirates’ George Valle in a mad scramble – enough to preserve a 74-72 victory Thursday night at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Pirates screamed for a foul. Instead, all they got was a pointless bench technical after time expired, and their first loss of the young 2014-15 basketball season.
Garcia’s inbounds pass against the press had sailed straight into the hands of Whitworth’s Adam Wilks, who delivered it to Valle on the left wing when Garcia made a desperate lunge.
“Someone undercut me,” Valle said. “But you can’t blame the loss on the officials – it’s something we should have taken care of much earlier. We should never have been in that position. But you have to give credit to a really good Rutgers-Newark team. I just hope we get another shot at them in the NCAA tournament.”
Seems reasonable. After all, the 17th-ranked Pirates (1-1) are gunning for a sixth straight Northwest Conference title. And the Scarlet Raiders (3-0) return their top seven scorers from a 20-win team and are favored to win the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
Their veteran savvy was apparent from the beginning, as they surged to a 14-5 lead in the first 5 minutes, taking advantage of four Pirates turnovers.
Whitworth managed to keep it close in the first half mostly on the strength of outside shooting – the Pirates had just three buckets in the paint. Then they turned to something else to change the tenor of the game after halftime.
“The key us getting back into the game was our zone,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “We kind of stood them up, made them a little more passive for large stretches of the game.
“We weren’t able to get crucial stops when we needed to down the stretch, but if we do some other things offensively like I know we can, it might have been a different story at the end.”
By revving up Valle and Christian Jurlina in the second half, the Pirates reeled off eight straight points to take a 38-36 lead – setting off a run of basket swapping that saw eight lead changes and seven ties.
With the Raiders up 61-60, they appeared to have control when David Azoroh blocked Pirates center Taylor Farnsworth’s layup with 16 seconds left. But Doze Ikwuegbu made just 1 of 2 free throws for the Raiders, and Matt Staudacher found Valle for a nervy reverse layup in traffic that sent the game into overtime.
But the Pirates led just once in the extra session – on Farnsworth’s foul shot 34 seconds in. A driving finger roll by Jordan McDaniel, who led the visitors with 19 points, and Darrian Collins’ 3-pointer put the Raiders in control, though a Staudacher 3 got Whitworth within one with 31 seconds to play.
Rutgers-Newark stretched it out again with a McDaniel layup and an Azoroh free throw, but Jurlina – who finished with 20 points – converted a reverse layup with 3 seconds to play to set the stage for the final fireworks.
“They’re very athletic,” Logie said. “You don’t get some of the breakdowns and one-on-one situations you might against other teams. We’re going to grow offensively as the season goes on. Defense is always a little ahead at this stage.”
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