Junior’s resurgence helps stem Iona’s late charge
NEW YORK — Senior wing Dane Miller sat down at the scorer’s table as the clock ticked past 11:50 left Saturday against Iona, waiting for his chance to re-enter the game.
As he did, junior guard Mike Poole converted a tip slam to push him to 14 points, one more than his season total.
Miller returned seconds later, and the Rutgers men’s basketball team celebrated at midcourt as Poole officially broke his six-game slump.
“[Poole] has to play to his strengths and that’s shooting open shots,” said head coach Mike Rice. “If he does that, he’s a valuable piece to our team.”
Poole finished with 18 points, but Miller sealed an 81-73 victory against the Gaels.
After seeing a 22-point lead shrink to one in eight minutes, Miller became the leader the Scarlet Knights (5-2) need him to be. He stretched Rutgers’ lead to two possessions before Poole stepped in with two free throws to put the game out of reach.
“[Miller’s] effort is what we need from him,” Rice said. “We’ll win our fair share of games if I can just get [Miller] to care that much and compete that much.”
Miller ended the game with a double-double, notching 13 points and 13 rebounds.
But in the game’s closing minutes, his chance to step up looked like it would not come.
The Gaels’ (3-4) charge revitalized the Madison Square Garden crowd, which aided their comeback bid, catching the Knights by surprise.
“I didn’t really think they would come back like that,” said sophomore point guard Myles Mack. “We let them back in it. We started playing like they play, and I think that was bad for us. We need to play our game.”
The Knights ended the game with 25 turnovers, a number much too high for Rice’s liking.
Although Rutgers turned the ball over one more time in the first half, it was not as impactful. Part of it had to do with Iona’s 12 turnovers and the other part with its 27.6 first-half field goal percentage.
And as the ball started to roll the Gaels’ way, Rice felt the presence of a selfish Rutgers team that settled for long jumpers.
“We stopped going inside,” Rice said. “Everything was ‘me’ instead of … ‘we,’ and ‘me’ can’t get involved in this. We have to continue to share the game.”
The selfishness culminated in the evaporation of a lead, until one of the Knights’ more experienced players stepped up.
With 1:55 remaining and the Gaels within one point, Iona forward Taaj Ridley attempted a layup that would have put his team ahead for the first time since the 7:34 mark of the first half.
Instead of reaching the net, the ball met the outstretched arm of junior forward Wally Judge.
Judge swatted the ball to Mack, who converted on a layup and a resulting free throw following a foul by Iona guard A.J. English.
Rice said Judge’s play was a good response to not starting because of what Rice called a “violation of team rules.”
The block was only one example of the Knights’ control of the paint. Rice knew the team might be a step slower than the smaller, quicker Iona lineup.
But it was also bigger and stronger.
As a result, the final rebounding total showed Rutgers ahead by 18.
The Knights also scored 13 more points in the paint and managed five blocks compared to the Gaels’ one.
“We don’t have those kinds of athletes,” said Iona head coach Tim Cluess. “We don’t even get to practice against them.”
Ridley ended the game as the only Gael taller than 6-foot-5 to play more than 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-6 Miller played 29 minutes, and the 6-foot-9 Judge saw 24 minutes on the floor.
That meant for most of the game, Iona gave inches to its opponent.
Win or not, Rice still has to deal with a team that showed it can build up a lead and then lose it minutes later.
“This team has talent. They just find ways to get in their own way,” Rice said. “At times they listen. At times it is like we [never] coached them [before]. It’s a challenge.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.