Scarlet Knights Keeping Positive Vibe

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- After after the latest last-minute defeat sent Rutgers to a fourth straight defeat, the Scarlet Knights hit the practice floor to ready for No. 9 Villanova on Wednesday. But is the frustration of losing three straight games in the last minute wearing on the Scarlet Knights?

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The effort and intensity is there, but the frustration and the losses are still piling up for Rutgers.

However, first-year coach Mike Rice and Scarlet Knights leading scorer Jonathan Mitchell both said there is no reason to believe a backslide awaits as the regular season stretch drive hits.

"I've got seven games left, so there's no time for me to think about being down," said Mitchell, a senior averaging 14 points per game. "I'm just trying to keep everybody positive and see how close we are (to winning), and little things like that in trying to keep everybody's spirits up, especially the young guys."

The Scarlet Knights (12-11, 3-8 Big East) need to win four of their last seven games to ensure finishing the regular season with a winning record, and have a shot at an NIT berth. The climb begins Wednesday as No. 9 Villanova visits the Rutgers Athletic Center.

"Our seniors have been through a lot," Rice said. "They're very hungry, and they've developed a nice toughness about them."

The stretch will not be easy and it begins with the Wildcats, who are the third Top 10 team on Rutgers' schedule in 11 days. Moreover, and the frustration stems from losing four straight games, including the last three of which came with the Scarlet Knights in contention to win in the last minute.

"We're in position to win games, and if not for stupid fouls, or us being in the penalty with 16 minutes to go in the game …those things are demoralizing," Mitchell said. "Those kind of deflate our team because we got in our own way."

The close losses began with a 3-point defeat against No. 2 Pittsburgh, and was followed by a two-point loss on a last-second lay-in at St. John's. It continued Sunday at No. 9 Notre Dame, where the Scarlet Knights pulled within three points with a minute to play but couldn't get any closer before falling by seven points.

Still, when the Scarlet Knights went through a light practice Monday, Rice didn't notice any problems with the commitment.

"They're focused on improving. It's a small area and we talk about it every day," Rice said. "Ok, are you going to stop improving? It starts with the seniors, because I don't know if they'll allow anybody to not improve. They've been very resilient.

"They've toughened their exterior. We're not as fragile of a team as we first were."

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