By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – At this point in the season, with a team that has lost 11 of its last 12 games, finding motivational tactics for the last game of the season can be difficult. However, when Rutgers plays Seton Hall on Friday night at the Prudential Center, they have an opportunity to do something they haven’t done since 2001-2002.
Sweep the series.
“Definitely knowing that now, it raises the magnitude of this game,” senior forward Austin Johnson said. “We haven’t finished above them or beat them twice in a season for a couple years now, so knowing that definitely gives us some incentive in this game.”
But that alone isn’t enough for head coach Mike Rice.
“We’re going to throw everything at them,” Rice said. “Last game of the year and you’ve not won as many games as you’d like you’re going to throw different motivation at them.”
However, the third-year coach is aware that no matter what buttons he pushes won’t necessarily determine the outcome of the game. When it comes down to it, it’s up to his players, and what is driving them.
“In the end I don’t know if any of that stuff surely is why we’re going to win or lose a game,” Rice said. “They have to want to be better because they’re apart of a team that’s still trying, still cares and ultimately want to do it because of their pride.”
Not to mention remembering how and what it feels like to win. Something they haven’t done in a while, and can pay dividends if the Scarlet Knights want to make a mini run in mid-March.
With the Big East Tournament looming on Tuesday, a win at Seton Hall could be just the right remedy for this team to win a couple games at Madison Square Garden.
“I think it does change the make up, especially if we can get that win right before our first Big East Tournament game,” Johnson said. “Going in with the taste of a win in our mouth we’ll be confident and knowing what we just did the game before worked.”
Not to mention an added pep in their step.
“You know what losing does?” Rice said. “Everyone’s lost….It saps the energy from you…So a simple win, no matter what people are saying about these two programs, it’s huge. It’s huge to me, it’s huge to [head coach] Kevin [Willard] and it’s huge to our basketball programs.”
So while the teams are facing off with a combined seven Big East wins, Rice feels there is still a good deal of aforementioned magnitude to the game.
“Seton Hall – it’s maybe as talked about with the students because both teams have struggled recently, but they know it’s a big game and they know it’s a game,” Rice said. “A game like the last seven or eight games it’s a chance to get better and a chance to get better in more than one way. A chance to get better and have a good feeling about themselves going into the Big East Tournament.”