By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – As Mike Rice walked out of the media room, Greg Lewis was standing on the steps near the doorway that leads to Rutgers’ locker room. Rice said four words to the 6-foot-9 sophomore who’s redshirting this season with a knee injury.
“G, I miss your rebounding.”
So did the rest of Rice’s team. Despite pulling out a 68-65 win against George Washington (4-6), Rutgers (6-2) was dominated on the glass 45-29.
“We got out-toughed. We didn’t put a body on anybody,” Rice said. “We just got out-toughed in the paint.”
What saved Rutgers – who had a 15 point first half lead before facing a four point deficit midway through the second half – was an important aspect of their defense. The Scarlet Knights caused the Colonials to turn the ball over 23 times and amassed ten blocks.
“Forcing 23 turnovers was certainly the difference in this game, because we certainly didn’t rebound,” Rice said, before quipping, “Did I tell you that yet?”
While Rice was frustrated with the way his team crashed the boards – or more accurately, didn’t – and even though he would have liked to hold George Washington to a lower field goal percentage than 41 percent, the third year coach can take solace in the fact that his team was able to hold on and win the game. Especially on the defensive end.
For the final three possessions, Rutgers was locked in on defense, culminating in a charge taken by Wally Judge that helped seal the win. Something they wouldn’t have done a season ago.
“We definitely would have lost this game last year,” senior wing Dane Miller said. “We wouldn’t have been able to go on a run. We would have kept on turning the ball over and allowing them to score. If we didn’t have Wally take that charge who knows what would have happened. Definitely last year we would have lost this game.”
Something Rice agrees with.
“Last year we would have completely let it affect the way we defended the last three or four possessions,” Rice said. “We would have put our heads down. Our energy and focus would have lapsed and we would have lost the game.”
The reason that didn’t happen against George Washington is simple. The team is starting to grow up.
“I think this game and the Iona game we’re showing we know how to win,” Miller said. “Even though we might give up a lead and allow teams to come back in a game, we can still win the game.”
Now they just have to rebound.