Game Preview: Rutgers at St. John's

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- An upset of No. 24 Pittsburgh gives Rutgers basketball its first opportunity for a Big East winning record under coach Mike Rice tonight against St. John's. Both teams coming off ranked wins for the first since 2003, the Scarlet Knights are in the hunt for win No. 11 tonight at Madison Square Garden.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Tipoff at Madison Square Garden is about as meaningful as a January game gets for Rutgers. Coming off an upset of No. 24 Pittsburgh at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, the Scarlet Knights are a slight underdog to St. John's with a winning record in Big East play on the line.

Rutgers (10-3, 1-1) has never had a winning record in the Big East under head coach Mike Rice, but that can change with a win tonight over the Red Storm.

"The loss to Syracuse, we took that very personally and it just led over to the game," said sophomore guard Jerome Seagears, whose best game of the year resulted in seven points and six assists against Pitt. "If that's going to get us wins in the Big East, I'm going to [keep using it]."

In his third game back from suspension, Rice's attention now shifts to St. John's (9-5, 1-1). Like Rutgers, the Red Storm come off an upset over a ranked team, beating No. 14 Cincinnati.

St. John's is led by D'Angelo Harrison, who is tops in the conference with 21.6 points per game.

"I think their overall athleticism [stands out]," Rice said. "Some of the talented plays they make with a young team that they have, they have their ups and downs. … They make plays that other teams don't because of their natural talent."

Outside shooting becomes critical for Rutgers tonight, facing the national leader in blocked shots in freshman Chris Obekpa (5.1 per game).

"They're the kind of team you want to face at the Garden," said senior Dane Miller. "I think we both have great athletes and want this win badly."

Miller led Rutgers to a 61-58 win over St. John's in their last matchup with a double-double. The senior captain is in line for his 38th consecutive start tonight, averaging 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Facing the nation's leading shot blocker, look for Rutgers to turn to guards Myles Mack and Elijah Carter to control the pace. The sophomore pair averages a combined 30.7 points per game this season and are the top two free throw shooters in the Big East.

"Both teams have some talent," Rice said. "I think with the overall depth of talent that both teams have, and some New York and New Jersey guys, that it should be an interesting game for metropolitan basketball fans. You may not be a St. John's person or a Rutgers person, but there's talent enough that there's going to be a quality game to watch, and an exciting game to watch."

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