Rutgers Blows Past Providence 85-72

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- The last time Rutgers won a conference game earlier on the schedule was in 2007, so after Saturday's 85-72 win against Providence at the RAC, first-year coach Mike Rice held true to his promise and celebrated the victory with a post-game locker room dance. The players loved it, but not as much as the coach enjoyed the way the Scarlet Knights played together.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers coach Mike Rice told his team he would dance after the first Big East win.

He held true to his word, but all things being equal, the Scarlet Knights are hoping the dancing, not the winning, is a one-time gig.

"I never want to see him do it again," Rutgers sophomore Dane Miller said before bursting out laughing. "We want to win and have him get excited, but dancing, I don't ever want to see him dance again. Maybe a chest bump, but no dancing. Maybe a two-step."

Miller, and the rest of the Scarlet Knights, were in a jovial mood after beating Providence 85-72 in front 6,520 Saturday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Rutgers picked apart Providence's zone defense, took better care of the basketball in the second half, and in the process turned a two-point halftime deficit into its largest margin of victory in a conference game since a 19 point win against DePaul on Jan. 31, 2009.

It ended a three-game losing streak, and marked the earliest Rutgers (10-5, 1-2 Big East) won a conference game since beginning the 2006-07 season 1-1. However, Rutgers lost its next five games that season, and began the next three seasons 0-6, 0-8 and 0-8.

"The momentum and confidence this team has now, we know we can win in this league," Rutgers senior power forward Jonathan Mitchell said. "We did a great job on the defensive end and we took care of the ball in the second half, and we were able to make plays."

It is Rice's first career league win, and it held plenty of meaning.

"Are you kidding me? It's unbelievable," Rice said. "Because in this league, you just don't know when the ‘Ws' are coming. Every night's a fight. You're scratching and clawing. So, yeah, I'm very excited to get this kind of done and away with."

With Providence (11-6, 0-4) forcing its frenetic full-court press style while forcing up an array of ill-advised shots, the Scarlet Knights took advantage by getting out in transition and moving the ball well to find the plethora of holes in the Friars defense.

Mitchell led the Scarlet Knights with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Austin Johnson (career-high 16 points), Gilvydas Biruta (13) and Dane Miller (12) also hit double digits as the Scarlet Knights shot 54.4 percent from the field.

Providence, which was held to 30.8 percent shooting, was led by Marshon Brooks' 29 points, which was four above his average.

"I told the team that I was really disappointed after this game, but the good news is that I haven't been disappointed after games or practices this year," Friars coach Keno Davis said. "Holding them to 33 points in the first half and coming through a run was something to be proud of.

"In the second half, they kind of picked us apart inside. We need to work on our penetration defense, as well as our interior defense if we're going to get any better. "

Despite shooting 56.5 percent in the first half, the Scarlet Knights trailed 35-33, mostly due to 11 turnovers.

However, Rutgers opened the second half with an 8-0 run, keyed by a pair of James Beatty 3-pointers. The Scarlet Knights stretched their lead to 50-41 with 13-11 to play on Johnson's lay-in and maintained a comfortable margin the rest of the way.

"A complete team effort," Rice said. "We were talking in pregame. We probably haven't had one of these since the Miami game (Nov. 21). We've had individuals step up. …We really haven't had a team effort. We've had individuals going outside of themselves."

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