Many factors are at work for Rutgers, which is in contention for both the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, but the players' hearts are still in it. The fire is still there, Johnson said, and can only grow stronger with the chance to keep playing.
"It would be big time," Johnson said on the chance to continue his career. "It would mean more of an opportunity to play, more time with these guys. I feel if we could prolong more time with the people that I love, that's an advantage. That's big-time."
Johnson and fellow senior Dane Miller have not sniffed a post-season tournament during their first three years at Rutgers. In fact, no one at Rutgers has seen one since Gary Waters took the program to an NIT nearly a decade ago.
"In a lot of ways I'm just not ready to stop playing," said Johnson, whose career-high 18 points sparked a near comeback for Rutgers last night. "It's starting to hit me that this could be it, but [the] second half showed we all still want play. We didn't give up in the first half."
Trailing by 14 to the Fighting Irish at halftime, Johnson spoke up from the Rutgers locker room. He asked his teammates to play the next 20 minutes like it was their last and tried to lead the way with a monster showing in the paint.
"For a guy like that for his last game, he put everything on the table and poured his heart out to this game for Rutgers and for us," Judge said. "It shows a tremendous amount of character and it shows his love for the game and the team.
"I feel for the guys who were seniors and this is their last go-around. I feel for them so much because without my red-shirt year, I would be in their position and it hurts."
Mack, a sophomore guard, matched Johnson's 18 points and said after the game that a postseason would be a sign of progress.
"It would be good to get that experience for our guys because we're still a young team," Mack said. "… I want to keep playing."
The CBI and CIT are far behind the NCAA and NIT in terms of prestige but represent a step forward for a program devoid of a meaningful March in nearly a decade. Rutgers (15-16, 5-13) has a lot to gain in terms of experience and a chance for a .500 record. But there are also financial costs to consider and the question of if a sub-.500 team deserves to see a postseason.
"We'll discuss some things," Rice said. "I know some of the secondary tournaments had called and gauged our interest, and that's something we'll look at as a program."