Wally Judge Invokes Kemba Walker at Big East Tourney | Zagsblog
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Sunday / June 23.
  • Wally Judge Invokes Kemba Walker at Big East Tourney

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    NEW YORK — One day after Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti gave coach Mike Rice the vote of confidence to return next season, Rice and his crew got a much-needed postseason win in the Big East Tournament.

    With Pernetti sitting behind the Rutgers bench at Madison Square Garden, Wally Judge put on his best performance since transferring from Kansas State, tying a Big East Tournament record by going a perfect 9-for-9 from the field en route to a season-best 20 points and 10 rebounds as No. 11 Rutgers dispatched No. 14 DePaul, 76-57.

    Myles Mack added 19 points and four assists and Jerome Seagears had 15 points for the Scarlet Knights, who will get No. 6 Notre Dame in the second round Wednesday night at 9 p.m.

    It is the last Big East Tournament for both teams, as Rutgers is headed to the America 12 Conference — or whatever it will be called — next year and then the Big  Ten in 2014 and Notre Dame is off to the ACC this summer.

    After the game, Judge invoked former UConn star Kemba Walker, who famously led the Huskies to five wins in five days en route to the Big East championship in 2011.

    “Exactly, that’s the mindset you gotta have coming into this,” Judge said in the Knicks and Rutgers locker room.

    “If you think you’re going to lose, then that’s what’s going to happen. As long as you approach the game with confidence. And they had a great leader in Kemba and he pushed that team to do what they did. And it shows that anything is possible.”

    Judge even flashed some historical knowledge, referencing George Mason’s 2006 Final Four run under then-coach Jim Larranaga.

    “And if you go back, because I’m an older guy now, George Mason,” Judge said. “And it shows you that at this time of year, anything can happen.”

    Judge also said he was motivated by a perceived slight from DePaul coach Oliver Purnell, whom he said told reporters that Rutgers’ bigs weren’t as good as Pitt’s bigs.

    Rutgers faces a tough ask to win five games in five days a la Walker, but at least Rice and his players are showing some fortitude after a tough season that saw them go 5-13 in the Big East and saw the head coach get suspended three games and fined $50,000 for reportedly throwing basketball at players’ heads.

    Rice said he appreciated Pernetti’s vote of confidence, but was focused solely on winning basketball games in March.

    Echoing the refrain he has given since leaving Robert Morris three years ago for the Rutgers job, Rice emphatically told a room full of reporters, “Rutgers basketball is going to happen. It may be slower than most people would like, but it’s going to happen.”

    Pernetti said he only decided later in the season to give Rice next year, and that a month ago he wasn’t certain what would happen.

    “A month ago I would’ve told everybody the same thing I told you, it’s way too early to judge that,” Pernetti said.”

    “But I think it’s important for a lot of reasons. Part of it’s about recruiting, part of it is about the team. Part of it is about where the program is headed and Mike, so I did it for a lot of reasons, but I thought it was important that it be out there and that everybody understands where we are so there’s no guesswork.”

    With uncommitted recruits like Christ the King guard Jon Severe still in the process of deciding between Rutgers, West Virginia, Pitt and other schools, it certainly helps Rice that his AD backs him for next year.

    The Scarlet Knights are now playing with house money against Notre Dame, but next year will obviously be critical for Rice, who has two years left on a five-year deal.

    Although Pernetti didn’t say it, it would seem obvious that Rice needs to show that he can win and take his team to a postseason tournament  in 2014.

    The following year, Rutgers will join the Big Ten, where they will have to go head-to-head with the Indianas, Michigans, Michigan States, Ohio States and Wisconsins of the world.

    “I think it’s critical,” Pernetti said. “If you take a look at what’s going on in college basketball, you can make the argument that’s the best league in the country this year.

    “So while football might get a majority of the focus, we’re going into a shark tank in basketball, too. So I think it’s important to have the pieces in place, and we’ll have them in place when we get ready to go.”

    In the meantime, Judge hopes to channel Kemba Walker in Rutgers’ last Big East Tournament ever.

    “No time like the present,” Judge said. “You gotta capitalize on your opportunities. [Rice] hasn’t given up on us, so we haven’t given up on him. We keep fighting and we keep playing.

    “Once the tournament times come around, it’s a second chance. You wipe the slate clean no matter what the record was and you play for everything else that everyone else is playing for.”

    Photo: AP

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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