Men's Basketball: Judge emerges in paint in vital match
NEW YORK — The Rutgers men’s basketball team has battled the Big East’s best big men throughout the season, with Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng and Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley among the talented group.
More often than not in conference play, the Scarlet Knights were on the wrong end of a lopsided interior battle.
But in last night’s 76-57 win against DePaul, the roles were reversed as the Knights became the aggressors in the paint.
“We thought if we had one advantage, that’s where our one advantage was, to go inside,” said head coach Mike Rice. “It started from the first play and [went] to almost the last play.”
This was not the case in the first meeting between the two teams, a 75-69 Blue Demon victory.
In the Feb. 16 meeting, DePaul pulled down eight more rebounds than Rutgers as it earned 10 more points in the paint.
This time was different, mostly thanks to the efforts of junior forward Wally Judge.
“Wally … no matter what happened this year, continued to work,” Rice said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s improved every single day because of it.”
Judge, who entered last night’s contest averaging 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, brought an energy that in the majority of the regular season had been lacking.
In doing so, he looked more like the player Rutgers (15-15, 5-13) hoped it was getting when Judge transferred from Kansas State before last season.
He ended with 20 points — his highest total as a Knight — and 10 rebounds in his best performance in a Rutgers uniform.
Luckily for the Knights, it came in the most important game of the season.
“March doesn’t care,” Judge said of difference between the game and the regular season. “Anything can happen. That’s how you have to play every game, like [your record] is 0-0.”
Judge’s career high is 22 points, a mark he reached Dec. 31, 2010 at Kanas State.
That night he was aided by 10 free throws.
Against the Blue Demons (11-21, 2-16), Judge earned most of his points inside while taking advantage of his opponents’ smaller lineup.
And by generating production inside, the Knights aided the guards, who have been carrying most of the scoring load this season.
“It eases us up when the bigs are finishing like that,” said sophomore guard Jerome Seagears.
The only thing that stood between Judge and a new career high was Rice, who took out his starters once the game was in hand.
With last night’s win, Rutgers moves to the second round to face Notre Dame, a team it took to the wire in its only regular season meeting.
A 69-66 Fighting Irish win Jan. 19 saw solid play from its best player, Cooley.
The senior All-Big East First Team forward finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Judge’s emergence may help battle some of Cooley’s production, but there are two other issues the Knights will have to deal with.
Rutgers has to play back-to-back days. Its opponent has had some time to rest, something Rice believes the team can handle.
“It’ll be difficult, but we’ll have engaged individuals,” Rice said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of situations that [Notre Dame] may possess.”
Last time, sophomore guard Eli Carter was the team’s leading scorer. He netted 20 in 32 minutes against the Irish.
But Carter broke his right leg Feb. 16 against the Blue Demons and will not be on the court tonight.
So while Judge has taken a step in the right direction, the Knights still need to make up points.
And last night’s performance may have been just the thing to push the team past the Irish.
“Playing against Notre Dame, they pass the ball well, they play a heck of a game,” Seagears said. “[Tonight] will be a great show.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @Joey_Gregory.