By Matt Sugam
NEW YORK – Apparently all Mike Poole needed to do was come home.
Six games into the season, the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder was struggling. He was virtually a non-factor offensively, averaging just 2.2 points a game.
That all changed for the Rosedale, NY native when Rutgers faced Iona at Madison Square Garden in the Holiday Classic. At the Mecca of basketball, Poole recorded a career-high 18 points, including two free throws in the waning moments to ice the 81-73 win after Rutgers blew a 22-point second half lead.
“It felt good,” Poole – who had just 13 points on the season – said. “My team has been encouraging me since day one. They knew what I’m capable of.”
And after his teammates had kept him positive through his rough stretch, they were the reason he was able to have his breakout performance.
“A lot of it had to do with his teammates,” head coach Mike Rice said. “We started going inside and collapsing the defense and Mike got some wide open shots. Flashed to the middle. When we were sharing the game, Mike got some wide-open looks.”
And Poole has to keep getting those looks – and knock them down – if he wants the success to continue.
“Mike has to play to his strengths and that’s just shooting open shots,” Rice said. “And if he does that, he’s a valuable piece to our team.”
No, he’s never going to be the top scorer on a nightly basis. That’s up to Eli Carter and Myles Mack. But he could regularly be that third, fourth or fifth option for Rutgers.
He was far from that through the first six games. All he needed was to get his self esteem up. And he did just that.
“Just a little more confidence,” Poole said was the difference. “My teammates have been with me. Coach Rice, [assistant] coach [Jim] Martelli, the whole coaching staff have been talking to me, telling me ‘it’s going to come, it’s going to come.”
And last night, it did. In the shadow of his hometown.
“It just felt good today,” Poole said. “Coming back home, it felt good.”