PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Two Top Ten teams have made their way to the Rutgers Athletic Center this season and both have left with an "L."
Freshman Eli Carter continued his scoring streak with 19 points and the Scarlet Knights defeated No. 8 Connecticut 67-60 on Saturday night in coach Jim Calhoun's return from a three-game NCAA suspension.
Freshman Myles Mack added 14 points for the Scarlet Knights (9-7, 1-2 Big East), who beat then-No. 10 Florida 85-83 in double-overtime on Dec. 29. It's just the second time Rutgers has ever beaten two Top Ten teams in the same season. The Scarlet Knights beat UCLA and West Virginia in 1981-82.
"I'm pleasantly surprised. Shocked? No," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "This team has it in them. They're athletes. They're just inexperienced right now. When we pay attention to details and we're communicating, these things can happen."
The win over Florida was followed by losses to South Florida and West Virginia.
"Maybe we just get a lot of energy when the big teams come in," Carter said. "We want to prove we're just as good if not better. We have to do that for every team."
The win snapped Connecticut's 10-game winning streak against Rutgers and it was just the Scarlet Knights' second in 19 Big East regular-season meetings with the Huskies. Rutgers' last win over Connecticut was on Jan. 30, 2002.
"They more than earned the victory," Calhoun said. "Especially when you consider they are one of the younger teams in the country."
Rutgers and its freshmen backcourt ruined Calhoun's return when it used a 10-0 run in the second half to take the lead for good. Mike Poole and Mack both hit a 3-pointer in the run that gave the Scarlet Knights a 52-45 lead with 7:29 to play.
Connecticut (12-3, 2-2), which lost in New Jersey on Tuesday night to Seton Hall to snap a seven-game winning streak, could never get any offense going, especially from the perimeter against Rutgers' zone defense and the Huskies finished with a season-high 20 turnovers, well above the 13.9 they average for the season.
Shabazz Napier had 23 points for the Huskies, who matched their season-low for points, while freshman center Andre Drummond had 10 points, 12 rebounds and seven turnovers, including two passes from the post that went into the stands on the fly.
Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut's leading scorer with an 18.9 average, finished with eight points on 4-of-9 shooting, including missing all four 3-point attempts.
"Our backcourt was not very good tonight," Calhoun said. "Overall Rutgers ground it out, back and forth and back and forth. We didn't complete the task and lost a basketball game."
Mack said Rutgers was just trying to be physical with Lamb.
"He's not really like a physical guy. He's really nonchalant," Mack said. "He doesn't like it when someone bumps him or whatever, so we just bumped him a little bit and threw him off. "
Carter entered the game averaging 24.3 points over the last three games. He hit a 3-pointer in the Scarlet Knights' 8-0 run to open the second half that gave them a 36-30 lead.
Connecticut closed within four points three times in the final minute but Rutgers went 8 of 10 from the free throw in that span.
Mack said there is no explaining Rutgers' ups and downs this season.
"We're still trying to figure that out," he said. "We just got to do this on a consistent basis. We practice the same every day, we just got to come out for a Top 10 team and a non-Top 10 team every game we play."
The win was the first for Rutgers in 12 games against defending national champions.
Calhoun, who led Connecticut to its third national championship last season, missed the first three games of the Big East season for failing to maintain "an atmosphere of compliance" in the program. The NCAA sanctions were over recruiting violations.
Calhoun missed wins over South Florida and St. John's and a loss to Seton Hall. According to NCAA rules, the wins and loss were given to assistant coach George Blaney's record and not Calhoun's.
It wasn't that Rutgers controlled the pace in the first half, it was that neither team could generate any offense.
Connecticut turned the ball over on seven of eight possessions during a 6:33 stretch where the Huskies failed to score. Rutgers didn't take advantage of the Huskies' sloppy play scoring just six points in that span.
Napier hit a 3-pointer with 1:01 to play in the half, Connecticut's first points from outside the paint or at the free throw line.
Connecticut finished the half with 13 turnovers, one off its average for a game this season, while Rutgers turned it over 10 times in falling behind 30-28.