PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - With Rutgers struggling to pull away from pesky VCU, Epiphanny Prince finally took over.
Prince scored 26 points, including 10 during a decisive run in the second half, to lead seventh-seed Rutgers to a 57-51 victory over No. 10 seed Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday in the NCAA tournament’s opening round.
Rutgers (20-12) will face Auburn on Monday night in the second round of the Oklahoma City Regional. The Tigers beat Lehigh 85-49 in an earlier game Saturday.
Quanitra Hollingsworth had 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead VCU (26-7), which was playing in its first NCAA tournament game.
Clinging to a 31-29 early in the second half, Prince ignited a 12-4 burst with a three-point play. After Heather Zurich hit two free throws for Rutgers, Prince scored the next seven points and ended the burst with an acrobatic three-point play that made it 43-33.
VCU got within 44-37, but Rutgers pulled away with an 11-0 run _ the final six by Prince.
The Scarlet Knights had their second unit in the game and led 55-37 with 6:22 left when VCU poured in the next 12 points. Radoslava Bachvarova’s 3-pointer with 1:27 left cut the deficit to 55-49.
Bachvarova finished with 16 points, but was 6-for-20 from the field.
The Rams had a chance to get even closer but they came up empty on three straight possessions as Rutgers missed three consecutive free throws.
Kia Vaughn finally sealed the game hitting one of two from the line with 33 seconds left. The senior finished with 13 points.
The game got chippy in the last few seconds as Vaughn and Kita Waller were called for technical fouls for shoving each other after a rebound. Bachvarova hit both free throws and Prince hit one for the final margin.
Prince added 11 rebounds for her first double-double this season. It was the fourth double-double of her career and second in the NCAA tournament.
VCU looked nervous from the start as Rutgers jumped out to an 8-1 lead. Bachvarova finally got the Rams going with a 3-pointer, and they even took a 17-13 lead before Prince started heating up.
She missed her first five shots before taking the ball away from the 6-foot-5 Hollingsworth on a rebound and hitting a pullup 3-pointer on the other end. On the next possession, she stole the ball at halfcourt and coasted in for an easy layup to make it 18-17.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the low-scoring first half and Rutgers led 25-23 at the break.
Rutgers, which is making its 20th NCAA appearance, struggled to a seventh-place finish in the Big East conference. Still, they came on strong at the end, giving Connecticut a tough game in the regular-season finale before falling to Louisville in double overtime in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
The Scarlet Knights were hosting an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 2001.
The Rams lost in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and earned an at-large bid.