By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – 22 days ago, Rutgers was the feel good story in the Big East. Following a tightly contested home win against USF, they sat at 3-2 in the top half of the conference.
Fast-forward three weeks and Rutgers is on a five-game skid, desperate for a win. Something no one in the program saw coming.
“Of course I’m surprised,” guard Myles Mack said. “I didn’t think this was going to happen, but unfortunately it did and we’re just trying to get up out of the hole and move to the next game.”
Which is a Saturday matinee against No. 20 Georgetown (16-4, 6-3 Big East). Not an easy task for any team, let alone one whose season is unraveling.
“It’s very hard,” forward Wally Judge said of getting out a rut. “No matter what conference you’re in you never want losses to snowball.”
They have for Rutgers (12-9, 3-7 Big East). And the Scarlet Knights have gone from battling for a bye in the Big East Tournament to the bottom of the league.
So how do they get back on track?
“The biggest thing is we have to find a way to come together,” Judge said. “We have to find a way to strengthen ourselves mentally and be more close-knit where we know everything about each other to where we have each others back.
“Right now, the thought is there as wanting to be there to have each others back, but being keyed in to do it, that’s where our lapses are.”
Which is why Mike Rice’s message to his team after the loss to Louisville was a simple one.
The only people that can get them back on track are those in the room.
“No one’s getting us out of this funk except for the 14 players and this staff,” Rice said. “You have to dig deep and have a mental toughness in the next 48 hours in preparing for Georgetown.”
Fighting history in the process.
This is a program that has not made the NCAA Tournament in over two decades and has never seen much success in the Big East. Sprinkle in the fact that the veteran players have gotten off track before, struggling to find a way back.
“It’s a unique challenge,” Rice said. “And I told them it’s a unique challenge that you have, because you can feel helpless and hopeless, that it’s whoa is me and it’s never going to get better or you could get better every single day.
“And that’s easier said than done to be honest with you and we’re going to challenge them. We’re going to pick them up and we’re going to prepare for Georgetown.”
And get on the other side of the win/loss column, ending a three-week streak.
“Just try to get a win,” Mack said of breaking the cycle. “That’s the only thing we could do. Just try to get a win.”