RU ends six-game losing skid
All Dane Miller could do was hug Mike Poole after the scoreboard read 57-55 in favor of the Rutgers men’s basketball team, and no one could blame him.
In a game they had to win, the Scarlet Knights held a double-digit lead last night for most of the second half. But that was before Seton Hall, following a 10-point run, peered up at the scoreboard and found itself trailing by one.
“You’re trying to work yourself out of a rut here,” said head coach Mike Rice, whose team faced a potential seven-game losing streak. “And every time people throw more dirt on you, it’s hard to shake it off and step up.”
More than 37,000 minutes had passed since the Knights’ last win. It was only fitting they had to wait a full 40 more.
Poole saved the Knights with a loose-ball rebound following an errant fast-break layup from sophomore guard Eli Carter with 13 seconds left, and Rutgers scraped a victory at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
After Poole and Carter each made one of two free throws, Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin’s three-quarter-court heave caromed off the top of the backboard and bounced harmlessly onto the RAC hardwood.
“I told him great job,” said Miller, a senior wing, of Poole. “I wish he made [his] second free throw because that scared the hell out of me.”
Miller, who eclipsed 1,000 points for his career, saved his most impassioned game for the Scarlet Knights’ biggest of the season. He swatted passes, rebounded in traffic and demanded the ball.
Miller finished with only seven points, but his defense caught Rice’s eye.
“Who likes to come off the bench when … he’s started so many games?” Rice said. “It’s good to have him rewarded tonight.”
Miller’s teammates also responded.
Sophomore forward Kadeem Jack recorded eight rebounds. Sophomore point guard Jerome Seagears notched a timely block on Seton Hall (13-12, 2-10) guard Aaron Cosby with 56.3 seconds remaining with the Knights (13-10, 4-8) nursing a six-point lead.
Rutgers has scored more when Carter plays well. But with Miller as the team’s heartbeat, it has traditionally played better.
“I’m another piece. It helps,” Miller said. “I try to do whatever I can to help us win. Some people probably want me to score more, but whatever happens, happens as long as we win the game.”
But the Knights were not perfect.
Carter and junior forward Wally Judge picked up two early fouls and played a combined 12 first-half minutes. Miller lodged an alley-oop attempt in between the net and backboard.
And with scoring at a premium, neither team played like it, combining for 34 3-point attempts.
“It’s definitely human nature to get down on yourself, to sulk,” said senior forward Austin Johnson. “[The coaches] often remind us we haven’t been winners around here.”
But when the dust settled in Piscataway, Rutgers suddenly found reason for optimism.
The Knights outlasted their in-state rival at home for the first time since 2007. Four of their final six games are against teams in the bottom half of the Big East standings.
And for the first time since Jan. 17, they can smile in the team’s locker room postgame.
They really had no other choice.
“You keep looking at the standings,” Rice said. “You’re still looking at what you’ve done in the last month. It’s not been very good. It’s nice to get one.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.