By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – When Rutgers hops on the team bus and travels down Route One South to Princeton, the heartbreak of the past two seasons will be on the forefront of their minds during the 30 minute drive.
The upperclassmen remember the season-opening 78-73 overtime loss at Jadwin Gym two years ago. And they all certainly haven’t forgotten last season, where they rallied from a 17-point deficit to take the lead twice in the waning moments of the game before a buzzer beating 59-57 loss at the hands of Ian Hummer.
“It was tough,” junior wing Mike Poole told SNY.tv. “Those are the worst games to lose. When you’re fighting back and you’re down and you know you can win and at the end they hit a buzzer beater.”
No one’s more cognizant of that than Austin Johnson. The senior forward was guarding Hummer on that play.
Therefore, watching one of the best players in the Ivy league streak across the lane before tossing up the game winning sky hook is a play that’s etched into Johnson’s memory.
“He’s so strong going to his left that he just ripped middle and I thought that I beat him to the spot and then he got his shoulders lower than mine and got a step on me and made the basket,” Johnson recalled. “I got to give him his respect. He’s a great player.”
That made a painfully unforgettable play on Johnson.
“That’s something that I will always remember,” Johnson said. “He capitalized and scored in the final seconds of the game, so that’s something that left a bitter taste in my mouth and definitely a bitter taste for us as a whole.”
But painful memories won’t lead Rutgers to victory. Not against one of the top teams in the Ivy League. And that’s something head coach Mike Rice is well aware of.
“It’s not like we’re losing to the little sisters of the poor here. Princeton’s a tremendous program, disciplined,” Rice said after the Sacred Heart game. “But yeah, they’re our neighbors to the south and we have to start to become successful.”
To do so, they’ll have to find more production on offense then they did last year. If they find themselves in a game in the 50’s again, it could spell trouble considering those are exactly the type of games Princeton wants to play.
“Last year though we couldn’t really score on them like we wanted,” Poole said. ”We’re not going to beat a team like Princeton scoring 57 points. That’s a team – because their offense is their strength, you have to capitalize on them on their defensive end, so I think this year we just got to do that. Just score more on them.”