Rutgers Opens Big East Tourney Play Today

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- The Big East Tournament opens today, and No. 13 seed Rutgers meets 12th-seeded Seton Hall in the second game of the afternoon session. The realization the end is near is hitting the seniors, but they are trying to keep the season going for another day.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers senior guard Mike Coburn was leaving the Rutgers Athletic Center court following Monday's practice when assistant coach Jimmy Martelli delivered a slap-in-the-face reminder of what is coming.

"Coach Martelli told me to make my last shot because he said it could be the last practice in the gym as a Scarlet Knights," Coburn said. "I never thought about it being the last practice. It's crazy. It flew by."

Barring an unexpected and unprecedented run in the Big East Tournament, Rutgers' season will end in the next few days, perhaps as early as today when the 13th-seeded Scarlet Knights face No. 12 seed Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden (approximately 2:15 p.m., ESPN2).

Rutgers coach Mike Rice re-iterated he would not take a bid to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) if the Scarlet Knights (14-16) were under .500.

So, to get to .500, it means Rutgers would have to beat the Pirates, then knock off No. 5-seeed St. John's on Wednesday, then beat fourth-seeded Syracuse to advance to the conference semifinals.

And only then would Rutgers be assured of at least a .500 record, which has given the Scarlet Knights' seniors a strict focus.

"All I'm guaranteed is one college game left," Rutgers senior power forward Jonathan Mitchell said. "I definitely want to go out with my clip empty, so I'm going to look to be very aggressive."

After practice players packed for a few days and headed to the team hotel in New York with the simple goal of gaining Rutgers' first conference tournament win since 2006.

The realization the end of the season, and the end of the college careers of Coburn, point guard James Beatty and Mitchell, vastly overshadows the intrigue of playing rival Seton Hall for the third time in less than seven weeks, or trying to make a deep run in the tournament.

It also had Mitchell, who won a national championship as a freshman at Florida before he transferred to Rutgers after his sophomore season, in a reflective mood.

"I have no regrets or anything like that," Mitchell said. "I just wish we would have won a few more ballgames."

And even for Rice, who is in his first season at Rutgers, the excitement of Big East tournament overshadows the opponent.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity," Rice said. "I've watched the Big East tournament since I was five years old. My father let me stay home from school for two days, so I'm excited about finally being a head coach in it. It's the second biggest tournament in the country, behind the NCAAs."

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