PRINCETON - Sixth-ranked Rutgers nearly suffocated last night on one of the so-called "breather" games on the Scarlet Knights' demanding nonconference basketball schedule.

Coach C. Vivian Stringer's team needed until the final minutes to put away Princeton, 53-48, at Jadwin Gym.

"We're glad we won," Stringer said. "Princeton did a real credible job in blocking out. We're just kind of tired. We didn't move as quickly as we would like."

Rutgers (8-2) has beaten George Washington, California, Maryland and LSU while suffering narrow losses to Stanford and Duke.

However, the Scarlet Knights have struggled against such lesser teams as Creighton, St. Joseph's and Army.

The Tigers (3-8) gave them more trouble in a neighborhood battle.

Sophomore Epiphanny Prince, who has become a clutch player in recent games, scored 17 points for the Scarlet Knights, while Kia Vaughn added 12.

Senior Essence Carson, the main cog in Stringer's system, sat out with a sore right foot.

Meaghan Cowher, the daughter of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, scored 20 points for the Tigers, even though she gave up three inches defending 6-foot-4 centers Vaughn and Camden Catholic's Rashidat Junaid. Addie Micir added 10 points for Princeton.

Rutgers seemed to finally have things under control after Prince's three-pointer gave the Scarlet Knights a 40-30 lead with 11 minutes, 37 seconds left in the game.

But the Tigers bounced back with a 10-0 run, tying the game at 45-45 with 5:18 left.

Prince then hit consecutive shots as Rutgers finally secured the win.

"I was very pleased with our team's poise," said Courtney Banghart, Princeton's first-year coach. ". . . We wanted a shot to win. That was not a fluke there. . . . Had a few shots gone our way, had a few of Prince's big threes in the second half not gone their way, we could be sitting here with a smile on our face and a lot of happy Princeton fans."