Limiting fouls proves essential
In the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s regular season finale Friday against Seton Hall, the Scarlet Knights found themselves in a very unusual position.
Entering the contest, they had lost 11 of their previous 12 games. This meant that, at the end of each of those 11 games, the Knights were typically forced to foul in order to get the ball back.
The Pirates assumed that very role Friday while Rutgers enjoyed the benefits of Seton Hall’s 13 second-half team fouls.
“It was us not having to chase anybody around,” said sophomore guard Myles Mack. “For them having to chase us around — it’s a better feeling being on the opposite end of the losing.”
Mack enjoyed an increased amount of personal success from Seton Hall’s foul troubles.
After shooting a combined six free throws in the team’s previous three games, the Big East’s second-best free throw shooter went 5-for-6 from the line.
“The feeling to get back on the line and just sink those free throws [is great],” Mack said.
Those free throws proved to be one of the differences in what ended as a 56-51 Rutgers win.
The Knights, who made five more free throws than the Pirates attempted, owned a 10-point advantage in free throws alone.
They finished with more made free throws than their opponent two other times in Big East play — both of which involved wins.
Now that the Knights will compete in the Big East Tournament, foul shots are one of many things they will need to come out on top in.
In addition to being the final game at Madison Square Garden for the team’s two seniors — wing Dane Miller and forward Austin Johnson — this year’s tournament carries some extra significance.
The Catholic 7 schools will split from the Big East on June 30th and form a 10-team league with Xavier, Butler and most likely Creighton.
“It’s sad about the Big East,” said head coach Mike Rice. “I grew up skipping school and watching [the tournament]. My sisters went to Syracuse. I was a fan. It’s sad.”
Rice is not the only member of the Knights who will lose something that has always been present in his life.
Being so close to New York, nearly all of Rutgers’ players have grown up watching or hearing about the Big East Tournament.
One of those is Rosedale, N.Y., native Mike Poole.
“It hurts,” the forward said of the impending split. “I wanted my kids to watch the Big East Tournament and watch all the history and those epic games. It’s still going to be a competitive league. Whatever happens next year happens.”
After this season, there will be a new conference for one year — before Rutgers and Louisville depart to the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.
“I’m excited about going to the Big East Tournament for the last time,” Rice said. “But also, looking back, I’m excited about what is going to take place.”
Rutgers’ conference switch is not for more than a season. For now, it needs to be concerned with tonight’s matchup with DePaul.
The Blue Demons took the only regular season meeting between the two teams on their home court — a 75-69 Rutgers loss.
The Knights hope to even the season series and to earn the more important of the two victories — the second Big East Tournament win under Rice.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.