PISCATAWAY — After watching his team squander a 15-point lead and fall behind by four points midway through the second half, Dane Miller figured he had experienced this kind of setback before.
But thanks to timely defense and clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, Rutgers rallied for a 68-65 victory over George Washington on Tuesday night.
“We would’ve lost this game last year,” said Miller, who filled the box score with 10 points, four rebounds and four blocks in the win. “I mean, they would’ve went on a run. We would’ve kept turning the ball over, allowing them to score and definitely last year we would’ve lost this game.”
The Scarlet Knights (6-2) didn’t — thanks to Eli Carter, who led four players in double digits with 19 points, and a defense that forced George Washington (4-6) into 23 turnovers and 4-for-20 shooting from beyond the arc.
Myles Mack contributed 13 points, Kadeem Jack had 12 points and a team-high six rebounds and Miller scored 10 to lift Rutgers (6-2) to its sixth win in seven games.
Nemanja Mikic and Lasan Kromah both missed 3-pointers that would’ve tied the game in the 30 final seconds, and after Patricio Garino drained a 3-pointer with 9.1 seconds left to cut the deficit to one point, 66-65, Mack made two free throws to provide the final margin.
George Washington had one last chance to tie, but Garino’s 3-pointer from 30 feet glanced high off the backboard at the buzzer.
“Last year we didn’t come together like we’ve done this year,” said Mack, who swiped three turnovers during a key second-half stretch to help the Scarlet Knights record their second-highest steals total in five years. “Our chemistry has gotten a lot better. Last year our chemistry wasn’t as good, and we would’ve just folded this game last year.”
Isaiah Armwood had 18 points and Garino and Kromah scored 10 apiece for George Washington, which has lost three straight games by a total of 10 points.
“I told the guys, ‘We need to start winning some of these close games’ but we can’t really win them if we keep turning the ball over,” said George Washington’s second-year coach Mike Lonergan, whose record fell to 1-9 all-time versus Big East competition. “But give them credit. They played a fast style, and I think they tired us out a little bit. Then I thought we took too many 3’s within the offense. I’m not talking about the end; that was my fault. But we did things that are uncharacteristic of our offense. And we just kept coughing the ball up.”
Rutgers led by 15 with three minutes to play in the half, but George Washington closed on a 10-2 run to go into intermission down 37-30.
“We still make plays, but we get in our own way and stop our runs,” said Rutgers coach Mike Rice, whose team played at home for the first time in three weeks but now won’t leave New Jersey again until its Big East opener Jan. 2 at Syracuse. “Good teams don’t do that. But I’m very appreciative that we found a way to win. We made free throws down the stretch. We certainly didn’t rebound, but we found a way to win.”
George Washington, which outrebounded Rutgers 45-29, remained hot through the first nine minutes of the second half, making seven of its first 15 and going ahead 49-48 on the strength of Mikic’s 3-pointer with 12 minutes to play.
That marked the Colonials’ first lead and it capped a 29-13 run stretching back to the final three minutes of the first half.
“We started off slow and really didn’t have a lot of energy,” said Lonergan, whose team dropped its second straight to a major-conference foe after having lost at home to Kansas State, 65-62, last Saturday. “I thought we really picked things up, especially in the second half.”
Both teams went nearly five minutes without a field goal, but Rutgers went ahead for good with six minutes to play by making all six shots from the free-throw line.
Despite shooting 15-for-23 from the line overall, the Scarlet Knights netted nine of their final 10 from the stripe to prevail.
“We all missed a part,” Rice said. “Whether it was free throws, taking care of the ball, following the formula defensively — it seemed that no one had a complete game tonight.”