By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Two weeks ago, No. 24 Cincinnati entered the RAC on a two game losing streak in the Big East, dropping them to 1-2 in the conference and desperate for a win.
Fast forward to today and Rutgers is on a three game skid, needing a win to stay relevant in the Big East.
“It’s flipped now,” junior wing Mike Poole said after yesterday’s practice. “We need to win. And we know that.”
The remedy for doing so isn’t too complicated. Mike Rice said Cincinnati (16-4, 4-3 Big East) wore his team down with ball pressure, offensive pressure and ball screens. They also gave up a lot of second chance opportunities as the Bearcats pulled down 15 offensive rebounds.
“Just play harder,” Poole said of what Rutgers (12-7, 3-5 Big East) had to change. “They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. They just played harder than us and wanted it harder than us, so we just got to come out and play as hard as them and as physical as them.”
And come out with a win so they don’t fall further down the Big East standings.
“It’s just crazy because whenever you get behind in the Big East the next opportunity is not necessarily the easiest opportunity,” senior forward Austin Johnson said. “You get to these teams and you’re playing top 25 teams all the time.”
And so, Rice knows his team is well aware of the importance of this matchup.
“Our guys understand what’s at stake,” Rice said. “Especially AJ [Johnson] and Dane [Miller] who have been around. They’ve had successful non-conference and you got to know – nothing’s easy in this league, so you just have to go and do it and all of the talk and it doesn’t really mean that much. You have to go out and consistently perform.”
And bring the sense of urgecny and inensity that Cincinnati – who’s had eight days to prepare for Rutgers – had at the RAC a couple of weeks ago.
“Everybody is ready to turn this around,” Poole said. “So we’re going to be just as hungry as they were when they came in here.”