Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mike Rice is a coach I want to play for

45 minutes of basketball and one post-game press conference is all I needed to see to know that Mike Rice is the type of guy I would want to play for.

He worked the sidelines, worked the refs, and coached up his players en route to a 76-70 overtime win against Seton Hall in the first round of the Big East Tournament Tuesday. When the game finally ended, Rice jogged over to the Rutgers band, gave high-fives to some of the musicians, then trotted back to the bench to give high-fives to the statisticians, clock operators and every other media member with in an arm's reach.

In his first post-season game as Rutgers head coach, his team put on a gritty performance against their Garden-State rivals, and overcame a Jeremy Hazell game-tying 3-pointer as time expired in regulation.

When his starting center Gilvydas Biruta fouled out late in regulation on a questionable call, Rice started barking at the refs, but never enough to lose his cool and hurt his team.

"I thought he (Biruta) had his elbows tucked, and if I watched the tape, he probably had one of the elbows out. I thought he had the elbows tucked. He had two guys on his face. That's a tough call. Big East referees are the best in the world" Rice said with a chuckle after the game.

Rutgers had rallied back from a 12-point deficit with under seven minutes to go, and had taken a three-point lead with just nine seconds left in regulation. But then Seton hall set up Jeremy Hazell, their go-to player, with an easy dribble hand-off on the final play and he tied the game on a three-pointer from the top of the key.

“When it happened, the toughness it takes to regain your composure it’s unbelievable, you can’t measure it to be honest with you, and I loved it that they had enough toughness to come back" Rice said at the press conference.

The Scarlet Knights had not won a Big East tournament game since 2006, and in his first try, Rice delivered.

"The toughness of this team at the beginning of the season through the end, " Rice said. "Whether it was down 10, down 8, continue to fight, continue too follow the formula through missed free throws, through a technical foul, through bad coaching, this team persevered and they had such a toughness."

For seniors like Robert Lumpkins, Jonathan Mitchell and Mike Coburn, this was more than just another win.

"I've never won a Big East tournament game so it was very exciting," Coburn said. "In the locker room we said it was a good job and we knew we had a good chance of winning, so it's not a crazy celebration because we've got to play tomorrow and you can't really get caught up in this game here when St. John's can turn around and just kick your butt if yo don't focus. "

At the press conference Rice was everything you would want from a head coach. He expressed happiness and relief. He praised his team and admired their resilience, but also knew their work was not done. He cracked jokes about not insulting the referees and chuckled when Mitchell got caught trying to rephrase Seton Hall didn't want it as much as Rutgers did.

In short, he did everything I would want my coach to do. After all, he got Rutgers a Big East tournament win, and those come few and far between.

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