Gaels’ four-guard offense worries Rice, RU
The last time Wally Judge played at Madison Square Garden, he had yet to put on a uniform for the Rutgers men’s basketball team.
He had not even arrived at Kansas State, the school he called home before transferring to Piscataway.
Judge was in his final year at Arlington County Day (Fla.) school and participating in the 2009 Jordan Brand Classic game.
“It was an all-star game, so I don’t know how much defense was being played, but it was a great experience,” he said. “I got robbed of MVP a little bit, but it’s all good.”
Judge scored a team-high 18 points in the contest, topping players like former NBA No. 1 overall selection John Wall and No. 3 pick Derrick Favors, who earned Co-MVP honors in the game.
He played in front of several celebrities like Michael Jordan, Spike Lee and Kevin Durant.
Those faces will likely not be in the stands when Judge returns to the Garden, this time in a Scarlet Knights uniform.
Rutgers takes on Iona tomorrow as part of the Garden’s Holiday Festival event.
The Gaels (3-3) may not appear the most daunting opponent, but the Knights (4-2) do not plan on taking them lightly.
“It’s exciting because they’re a quality program,” said head coach Mike Rice. “[Head] coach [Tim] Cluess is tremendous in what he has accomplished there.”
Rutgers is not in a position to take a MAAC opponent lightly after dropping its Nov. 9 season opener to St. Peter’s.
Iona figures to be as difficult should its recent history of strong conference play prove to be an accurate representation.
While the Knights fell by four points to St. Peter’s at home, the Gaels fell by only two points to the Peacocks on the road.
But records and numbers are not the only reasons Rutgers cannot afford to overlook Iona.
“It’s difficult because they play with four guards,” Rice said. “You have to defend with discipline, and you can’t stop. There has to be a resolve there. [The guards] put so much pressure on your defense every second of the shot clock.”
Defense has been the Knights’ weakness in recent games. In their last three contests, they have allowed opponents at least 79 points.
The four-guard offense can keep that number high if Rutgers loses focus, as it did against Mississippi, against whom it allowed a 14-2 run in the second half in an 80-67 loss.
Speed is a big worry for Rice. He said earlier in the year the players added size in the offseason, but it has slowed them down.
Rice is well aware of how an opposing coach can take advantage of a team’s lack of speed.
“I used to do it at Robert Morris and my first year here,” he said. “We out-quicked teams. We were tenacious but always quicker. Now that we’re bigger, we just can’t lose our focus away from the ball and we’ll be fine.”
Like Rutgers, Iona sees most of its scoring from its guards. Senior Lamont Jones and junior Sean Armand both average more than 20 points per game, while junior Tre Bowman averages more than 12 points per game.
Size will be an issue, as well. Although the Gaels run a guard-heavy offense, Armand and Bowman — who have started every game — stand at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively, taller than any Rutgers guard aside from junior Mike Poole.
That means the Knights need to play bigger, especially on defense.
“Every team doesn’t have a scorer, but every team can become a good defensive team when put together,” Judge said. “That’s always been our goal: to defend. We have scorers, but we have to bring it on both ends.”
Iona has scorers, too. While it has two players average more than 20 points per game, Rutgers has none. Sophomore guard Eli Carter leads the team with 16.7 points per contest.
Sophomore guard Myles Mack said the Gaels’ dribble-drive offense does not make things any easier.
To defend it, the Knights need to be disciplined on the defensive end.
“We have to get our switching down,” Mack said, “and know when to switch and when not to switch.”
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