Beating St. John's 58-56 at Madison Square Garden, Rutgers had more poise down the stretch and overcame a 2-for-12 shooting night from leading scorer Elijah Carter.
St. John's sophomore D'Angelo Harrison came as advertised, electric from the floor. But where Harrison missed multiple free throws and showed poor shot selection in the final minutes, Rutgers was all smiles.
"There were smiles on their faces [in the last two minutes]," said head coach Mike Rice. "I don't know what was taking place, but they were smiling. They were calm, as I always say, comfortable in chaos. It's nice to have guys who have been there."
The tides turned at the 3:31 mark of the second half when forward Wally Judge fouled out for Rutgers. Then tied at 51, senior forward Dane Miller scored four straight points in transition to take a lead Rutgers would not relinquish.
Miller finished with 11 points, all in the second half, and his presence on the defensive end was a driving force toward victory. Harrison, who leads the Big East in scoring, got his 20 points, but shot just 33 percent from the floor and missed four key free throws in the second half.
"He's a more confident player, he has more purpose," Rice said on Miller. "He said at halftime, ‘yo this is on me' because he wasn't very good in the first half. …He patted himself on the chest and said ‘this is on me in the first half' and said ‘we're fine. I'll play better.'"
The win puts Rutgers in uncharted territory with a 2-1 record in Big East play. For the first time under Rice and first in seven years, Rutgers has a winning conference record.
"It builds great momentum for us, especially with [Cincinnati] coming to town," said senior Austin Johnson, who scored 10 points in 19 minutes. "We know from past experience that once you get on the [losing] side of the board, you accumulate a bunch of losses."
At 11-3, 2-1, Rutgers now has the mindset of "why not us?"
"I keep on telling our team, why not us," Rice said.