By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Mike Rice gave his team a mantra at the start of the final month of the regular season.
It’s something they needed to do to solidfy themselves a spot in post-season play. The same could be said for Providence.
At the start of the month, both coaches were trying to rebuild programs with teams that were reeling. Fast forward to Saturday night at the RAC and you had two teams heading in opposite directions.
With a 76-72 win at the RAC, Providence has won five of their six games in February to improve to 7-8 in the Big East. Meantime, Rutgers has lost five of their six games in February and fell to 4-11 in conference play, losing 9 of 10 after a 3-2 start.
The result is Providence escaped playing in the dreaded first day of the Big East Tournament, which with 14 teams in the Tournament, means the bottom four teams playing in a night cap.
“That’s all we talked about the last two days,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “We felt if we could come on the road and get a win, we solidify ourselves not playing in that Tuesday game.”
And move his program up a rung as they try and climb out of the cellar of the Big East.
“As a program – I’m trying to build a program that’s going to win long term and I think this was a great stepping stone as a program because I think for three straight years we played in that game and we haven’t been very good in that game,” Cooley said. “So for our team to accomplish what they’ve accomplished this season as horrific as we started, I’m proud.”
Meanwhile, Rutgers will be playing in the first day of the Big East Tournament yet again. Something Rice isn’t focused on.
“I haven’t thought about it. I’m thinking about Georgetown,” Rice said. “I’m not thinking about it. I’d like to rip my eyes out from the loss, so I’ll think about where were finishing on my days off.”
And while things seem grim for Rutgers – who fell back to .500 for the first time this season since the second game of the year – Dane Miller tried to keep things in perspective.
“We still have three games and if we can get these three games or two out of the three then whatever happens in the Big East Tournament, you go out there and play,” Miller said. “Anybody’s beatable.”
So despite their struggles, this is a team that’s not going to pack it in down the stretch.
“The season’s not over,” Miller said. “We can still win these three games and win one or two in the Tournament. Anything can happen. This is basketball.”