PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Bucknell nearly pulled off an incredible comeback against a Big Ten opponent, but a 20-point halftime deficit proved to be too much in a 57-53 loss at Rutgers in non-conference women’s basketball action Saturday at The RAC. The Bison outscored the Scarlet Knights 32-16 in the second half and were as close as two points three times in the final six minutes of play, but fell to 5-3 on the season.
Rutgers, which improved to 2-6, seemingly couldn’t miss in the first half, shooting 61 percent on its way to a 41-21 lead. The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 23-8 lead after just one quarter thanks to 67 percent shooting, going 10-15 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc.
“A pretty disappointing first half really dug us a hole,” Bucknell head coach Aaron Roussell said. “We were flat and unfortunately not very active in our zone to start the game. Give Rutgers credit as they came out determined and were absolutely on fire. To shoot 60 percent on any defense is pretty incredible, and we just weren’t able to score with them early.”
Playing a Big Ten team for the fourth consecutive season and its first ever game against Rutgers, Bucknell came out and looked like a much better team in the third quarter. The Bison put themselves within striking distance, cutting the deficit to single-digits, 47-38, on a 3-pointer by sophomore Kate Walker in the closing seconds.
Rutgers went back up 11 early in the fourth quarter, but Bucknell responded and continued to chip away at the lead. Senior Claire DeBoer hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and senior Sune Swart followed with a pair of free throws. Shortly after, the Bison received a huge boost on a technical foul against the Scarlet Knights. It came after a shooting foul on DeBoer, resulting in four straight free throws, all of which were made. Slagus hit a pair, and DeBoer followed with two more to put the Bison down four, 51-47 with 7:14 to play.
Bucknell pulled within two three times: first on a layup by DeBoer with 5:25 to play, second on a layup by sophomore Kyi English with 1:34 on the clock, and lastly on another layup by DeBoer with 17 seconds remaining in regulation. The Bison had two possessions with a chance to tie the game or take the lead during that span, but both ended with missed 3-pointers.
The Scarlet Knights did their part down the stretch, making all four of their free throw attempts in the final 23 seconds of play to prevent the Bison from getting a chance at any last-shot heroics.
“We came out with some urgency and renewed energy in the second half,” Roussell said. “Outside of our rebounding, we were good enough to come back and make it a game. Unfortunately, with that hole you have to play perfectly, and we weren’t able to do so.”
Bucknell lost the rebounding battle for the first time all season and just the seventh time in its past 71 games, as Rutgers finished with a 36-27 advantage on the boards.
“That is what I was most disappointed with today,” Roussell said. “They were minus-10 on the boards entering the game, and we were plus-13. For them to go plus-9 killed us. We have to have others besides our top three rebounders get in there.”
DeBoer led the Bison with 17 points, 11 of which came in the second half, and added eight rebounds and four assists, while sophomore Kaitlyn Slagus led all players with 10 boards and tallied eight points and three blocks. Swart scored in double-digits for the third straight game with 13 points on 2-of-3 shooting, including a 3-pointer on her only attempt. She did most of her damage at the line, converting eight of her 11 attempts.
Kandiss Barber paced Rutgers with 17 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Shrita Parker chipped in with 11 points.
Bucknell wraps up a stretch of five straight games against teams that played in either the WNIT or NCAA Tournament when it plays at St. Bonaventure on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Bonnies made the 2016 NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed and knocked off seventh-seeded Oklahoma State in the opening round.