Rutgers 79, Monmouth, N.J. 56

Mike Rice no longer coaches in the Northeast Conference. After

taking Robert Morris to three postseason appearances in three

seasons, he moved on to Rutgers of the Big East this spring.

But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about the NEC. Despite

little national recognition, the 12-team league has the potential

to pull off a stunner every now and again. And on Saturday night,

it almost happened again.

Mike Coburn scored 18 points and Jonathan Mitchell added 16 as

Rutgers broke open what was a nip-and-tuck game and overwhelmed

Monmouth (N.J.) 79-56 on Saturday night, the Scarlet Knights’ fifth

consecutive victory and Rice’s first on the road.

”Monmouth hit shots, and they played with an edge for 30

minutes,” Rice said. ”We definitely got punched, but we didn’t

come apart, we stuck to the plan, and maybe, Monmouth wore down at

the end.”

Rutgers (8-2) has won eight of nine and improved to 3-1 vs. New

Jersey schools, having only lost to Princeton 78-73 on opening

night. There was a sense of familiarity to the night for Rice, who

lives in nearby Little Silver, N.J., and is 2-0 at Monmouth’s new

Multipurpose Activities Center in less than a year.

”We fought and we played hard defensively,” Monmouth coach

Dave Calloway said. ”But you have to give them credit. They made

shots at the end.”

R.J. Rutledge led the Hawks (4-7) with 17 points and Ed Waite

had 13 in the opener of what is a rare Big East back-to-back

situation for this NEC program. Monmouth will play host to No. 10

Villanova on Wednesday.

”This is a step forward,” Rice said. ”We had a plan, we stuck

to the plan, and we persevered.”

Though it wasn’t easy. After trailing 37-31 at the break, the

Hawks, in fact, took the lead at 41-39 four minutes into the second

half in a game that saw the lead change 11 times, with four


But Gilvydas Biruta’s slam with 12:08 left in the second half

gave Rutgers a 52-44 lead, brought the road fans to their feet,

forced a Monmouth timeout, and for the first time all night, put

the Hawks in a hole they couldn’t get out of.

Dane Miller had 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists for

the Scarlet Knights, who had four players reach double figures.

”We hung with them most of the game,” said Rutledge, who had

three of Monmouth’s 18 turnovers. ”But the turnovers caught up to

us in the end. We had the energy going for a while, but it’s still

a loss.”

There will be tougher tests awaiting Rutgers, especially as it

enters Big East play next month. The Scarlet Knights will need to

play better than they did for several stretches vs. the Hawks. But

all told, Rutgers scored the game’s final 13 points, and Rice –

trying to turn around a team that went 15-17 last year – will take

eight wins in 10 tries more often than not.

”We’re getting better,” said Rice, whose team plays host to

St. Peter’s on Thursday. ”We don’t look that far, we look to the

next game. The next game is always our biggest game. But the

players are buying in, and they have the ability to change. That’s

been impressive.”

The Hawks, meanwhile, must now prepare for the Wildcats, a team

they lost to in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

Villanova improved to 9-1 with a 78-59 win over Delaware on

Saturday night.

”We’ll go back and watch tape and prepare,” Calloway said.

”Our problem is, we can’t simulate in practice some of the talent

that Villanova has on the floor.”