PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Rutgers missed so many easy shots, blew a double-digit lead, and in long stretches looked nothing like the No. 6 team in the country.
No wonder coach C. Vivian Stringer has felt better after games.
"I just don't need to have a headache, it's as simple as that," she said.
At least the Scarlet Knights (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) escaped with a win. Kia Vaughn had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Rutgers survived a scare from feisty Saint Joseph's to hold on for a 56-50 victory Wednesday night.
"I think we're going to regret the way we played today," Stringer said.
Epiphanny Prince scored 12 points and Matee Ajavon had 11 for a Scarlet Knights team that could have used an easy warmup before Monday's game against No. 3 Maryland.
Instead, the Hawks (3-2) shook off a slow start and gave Rutgers (4-1) quite a run.
The Hawks found themselves down by 12 in the first half thanks to a flurry of turnovers and a slow start from the field. Once they calmed down, they took over for about a 20-minute stretch.
They broke through late in the second half and took the lead, going up by as many as three points after a three-point play and a free throw made it 49-46.
Rutgers, though, is coming off a Final Four season for a reason and showed why in the waning minutes. After a miserable first 17 minutes of the half from the floor, the Scarlet Knights hit some big shots and regained a 50-49 lead with 1:52 left on Vaughn's offensive rebound and layup.
That was enough to hold off the Hawks.
"I don't think we should have been in that position in the first place," Ajavon said.
Rutgers beat the Hawks without Essence Carson (11.3 ppg), who was out with a hip flexor/groin strain. The Scarlet Knights used some players out of position to fill her void and they simply couldn't get the kind of production they needed out of the makeshift lineup.
"We can't play that game and I'm sure we won't play like that against Maryland," Stringer said.
Stringer hoped Carson, who briefly warmed up at the end of the game, would be ready for Maryland and a Dec. 6 contest against Duke (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP).
Timisha Gomez led Saint Joseph's with 14 points, and Sarah Acker had 10 points and eight rebounds.
"This was a great confidence boost for our team to know they can compete with a Top 10 team," said Hawks coach Cindy Griffin.
Rutgers missed 16 of its first 20 shots in the second half and played nothing like the team that scored the game's first 10 points. They finished 8-for-37 in the half.
"Once they saw we were trying to pass to the inside, they collapsed to Kia," Stringer said. "We lost our confidence offensively."
Amy Gillespie sank a 3 that pulled the Hawks to 44-42. Kallie Hovatter helped the Hawks tie the game for the first time on a driving layup that sent about 2,000 SJU fans into a frenzy.
Amy Wold swiped a pass and Hovatter sank one of two free throws off the turnover with 8:08 left to give the Hawks their first lead, 45-44.
The Hawks made their run without Acker, who briefly left the game after she was knocked hard to the court. Acker, who had nine points when she left with 9:36 left, returned minutes later.
Saint Joseph's could have used that kind of effort from the start.
Rutgers opened on a 10-0 run and seemed ready to blow out the Hawks in their first game since a 45-43 win over No. 6 LSU. Ajavon had a pair of steals during the run, turning one into a basket for Myia McCurdy and keeping the ball on the next one for a fastbreak layup.
Acker snapped Saint Joseph's scoreless streak with a basket 6 1/2 minutes into the game and Gomez followed with a pair of 3-pointers to get the Hawks offense going.
"We knew we could play with them," Gomez said. "It took us 10 minutes to realize it."
The Scarlet Knights stalled each spurt with 3-pointers, one from Brittany Ray and another in the corner by Prince that pushed the lead back to double digits.
Rutgers took a 35-28 advantage into halftime.
The Hawks had more turnovers (12) than baskets (11) in the first half.