PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers coach Mike Rice could have turned over a table following his team's 11th loss in 12 games, or ripped into his players for squandering a 12-point second-half lead.
Instead, Rice said he entered the locker room following the Scarlet Knights' 60-54 loss to No. 15 Marquette on Tuesday night and simply told his players they deserved to win.
"There were a lot of hurt and disappointed individuals in that locker room," said Rice, who paused several times during an emotional postgame news conference to collect himself following a Senior Night defeat. "I told them they deserved to be happy for how hard they worked without any results, how hard they keep practicing for each other, for the staff. You look out there sometimes, even in practice, you get so excited because we're so close in certain aspects and then ... this team won't quit.
"With the lack of success that this team has had this past month and a half, you would think they wouldn't care. There wouldn't be really disappointed and really hurt individuals. I love the hurt. I love the fact that they have tremendous heart and they care for one another."
Jamil Wilson scored all 10 of his points in the second half and put Marquette ahead for good with a late 3-pointer as the Golden Eagles (22-7, 13-4 Big East) overcame a 10-point halftime deficit.
Myles Mack scored 11 points and Jerome Seagears added 10 to counter his five turnovers as Rutgers (13-15, 4-13) dropped its fifth straight.
"I think a lot of people will say there's a huge difference between 13-4 and 4-13. But when you're inside of that you realize how fragile this is and how small the difference is," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "I think Rutgers is good. They're talented, Caoch Rice does really creative things offensively. They play extremely hard defensively."
Rice conceded the loss was like so many during their late-season swoon, with unforced turnovers and missed free throws spoiling what he considered a solid effort.
"We just aren't able to finish games out," said Rice, whose team has been outscored by an average of 9.8 points in the second half over the past 11 games "We're going to get there. We're going to work on execution, we're going to work on ball fakes, getting the ball in the paint. We're going to work on all the things you do to finish off games because, again, they're close."
Two plays down the stretch epitomized the night for the Scarlet Knights: Seagears' turnover was followed by a 3-pointer by Blue that tied the score at 52-all with 4 minutes to play and two missed free throws by Miller that could have tied the game at 56-apiece with 1:08 remaining.
"It was tough," said Miller, who finished with five points in his final home game. "It was tough for me. It was tough on everybody. Guys were crying. I couldn't say anything really. I had a chance to tie the game up and I missed both free throws."
Rice, whose team entered the game having been outscored by an average of nine points in the second half over the previous 10 games, was outscored 39-23 in the second half versus Marquette.
Fellow senior Austin Johnson said the locker room felt "a little numb" after the loss, adding: "Guys are just sick to their stomachs about the loss and they're going to do everything they can about getting the ball going in the right direction. Coach (said) we deserved the win, that we had been working hard in practice and we deserved have been able to close out games and reward ourselves with a victory. And I agree with him. We've been working hard but we haven't been able to close out games."
Rice is optimistic the Scarlet Knights will rebound in time for their clash with in-state rival Seton Hall, knowing emotions will be high Friday night in Newark after they beat the Pirates at home 57-55 for their lone win since Jan. 17.
"We're going to watch some (film), we're going to talk about what we always talk about: getting better," Rice said. "Talk about `this is going to be our game, this is going to be the time where we close it out, this is going to be the time where we've learned from our mistakes, we've learned to be more consistent and focused.'
"I would've loved for it to have already happened. I'm sure our fans, I'm sure a lot of people would. This group is a younger group that's getting older now and has to learn those lessons, and they're learning the hard way."