For sophomore wing Malick Kone, an impact season will come now or never, he said. And he sees no better time to break out than at the world's most famous arena.
"It (my confidence) high right now," Kone said before leaving Rutgers to head to the Big East tournament. "We don't have anything to lose. Seton Hall was the last game of the season and I had confidence, so I say I need to stay focused and try to do something right now. If I don't do it right now, I don't know when I'm going to do it. It's a good time."
Kone scored eight points and three steals in the win over Seton Hall. For a player averaging two points a game, stepping up this late in the season is the only way Rutgers can make a run in the Big East tournament.
Missing Elijah Carter, every point counts, said head coach Mike Rice.
"I loved him," Rice said. "It's about somebody stepping up. I was putting Malick in and defensively he was all over the place. … Those are eight points that may not seem a lot. When you're 12th or 13th in the Big East in scoring, those eight points are huge. Those are eight points that [the opponent] doesn't expect because he only averages three. Guy's stepping up doing extraordinary things and he was extraordinary [against Seton Hall]."
Kone has shown flashes in the past, scoring a career-high 17 points against Boston earlier this season. Consistency did not arrive for Kone in his second year on campus, but the extra scoring has to come from somewhere and he wants the responsibility.
"I always talk to my teammates and say we need to step up," Kone said. Not only me, we all need to step up because we have the talent. Some days might be bad days. I'm not going to let a bad day affect me or other players. I'm just going to try to do other things like rebounds or find guys who are ready to play. We need to try to find good things."
Kone grew up in Conakry, Guinea and not in the United States, but Madison Square Garden was always well-known to him.
Playing there again tonight, and possibly for the last time in a meaningful game, has him hungry to keep the season going.
"Everybody knows Madison Square Garden," Kone said. "It's the most famous place in the world. If you're not excited to play there, I don't know what would make you get excited. Everybody will be there and it will be awesome. If we can win, what does that mean?
"This is our last Big East tournament. The fact that everybody (outside the program) is saying we're not going to do well makes me excited to prove them wrong. We're a better team than last year."