It took a miracle shot, a questionable call and a clutch free throw on Wednesday night for never-say-die Rutgers to finish off one of the most jaw-dropping comebacks of the college basketball season.
Unranked Rutgers trailed No. 9 Villanova by three in the closing seconds when guard James Beatty dribbled around a top-of-the-key screen and passed to teammate Jonathan Mitchell spotted up on the right wing. Because Mitchell made the 3-point shot, drew a whistle and sank the free throw with eight-tenths of a second remaining, Rutgers emerged with a stunning 77-76 victory.
The most vexing aspect of the loss for Villanova was the call that sent Mitchell to the foul line for the game-winning free throw. Guard Corey Fisher appeared to graze Mitchell's elbow on his shot, but it was apparently not enough contact to alter the trajectory of the ball.
"[Fisher] was there to deny, and he hit his hand as he was going up with the shot," Villanova coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It was perfect timing on their part and just the worst timing for us. It happens. [Fisher] is making the right play."
Wright was correct not to blame the officials because it took numerous mistakes from Villanova and brilliant shots from Rutgers to even put the Scarlet Knights in position to tie or win the game on the final possession.
The Wildcats led by 12 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining, by 10 with 2:42 remaining and by five with 16 seconds remaining. It only became a one-possession game because Beatty banked in a 3-pointer with 11 seconds to go and then Fisher missed one of two free throws at the other end to give Rutgers the ball down three.
That Mitchell sank the 3-pointer, and the free throw was a much-needed dose of good karma for a Rutgers team that has lost numerous close games in Big East play. It also was revenge for coach Mike Rice, whose Robert Morris team lost a heartbreaker to Villanova in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last season.
"I always want to take the last shot," Mitchell told the Newark Star-Ledger. "I always want the game on my shoulders. J.B. [James Beatty] did a great job kicking it back to me off the screen and I just let it fly. I got the whistle and the shot went in."