PISCATAWAY, NJ—While the first Big East victory of the season is a far cry from getting to the Big Dance, it’s enough to get Rutgers basketball head coach Mike Rice to boogie.
Rice promised his team that if they got the win, he’d dance. So when the team delivered the first year head coach his first Big East win, Rice broke out his dancing shoes.
“He did the dance that JB [James Beatty] always does on game day at shoot around. It was funny,” sophomore forward Dane Miller said. “You could see that he was really really excited to get his first Big East win. And the coaching staff was too.”
After a first half in which Rutgers was plagued by turnovers, it looked like the Scarlet Knights could be left searching for their first Big East win.
Despite outshooting Providence (11–6, 0–4) 54.2 percent to 36.1 percent, Rutgers (10–5, 1–2) trailed at the half 35–33. The Scarlet Knights’ 11 turnovers were a major reason why, as the Friars scored 10 points off them.
But RU was able to clean up their mistakes in the second half, only turning the ball over four times. The more consistent play led to a 52 point half en route to the 85–72 win.
Miller and senior forward Jonathan Mitchell’s bounce-back game after putrid performances against Marquette were a big help. The duo scored 12 and 21 points respectively and each had three blocks. Mitchell recorded a double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds.
“We know that in order for this team to be successful me, Dane [Miller], Coburn, JB [Beatty] have to step up and get this team going,” Mitchell said. “So I just wanted to come out and be aggressive early, set the tone for the team, and I think we did a great job of doing that tonight.”
The Knights also got help from an unusual place in forward/center Austin Johnson. Johnson had a career-high 16 points off the bench.
“I said mean things to Austin [Johnson], especially after the Villanova game. And you challenge them,” Rice said. “I don’t give players phony confidence. Never have. I’m bad at that. That’s one of my weaknesses. I attack them.”
But tonight, there was no need to attack the 6-foot-8-inch sophomore.
“I’ll give him all the credit in the world,” Rice said.
As for his first win coaching in the toughest conference in the country, it was well worth jiving about.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rice said. “In this league, you don’t know when the W’s are coming. Every single night is a fight, you’re scratching and clawing so I’m very excited to get this done and away with and starting to prepare for [Tuesday's game at] UConn.”
Follow Matt on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MattSugam and tune in every Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST on WRSU-FM as he cohost’s Scarlet Fever discussing Rutgers, Big East basketball, football, and other New York sports.