Winning in Washington, D.C., is nothing new to Karl Hobbs, but Wednesday night's moment at the Verizon Center was different.
Instead of NCAA tournament bubbles or conference titles, the first Big Ten post-season win in Rutgers history was about broader concepts. Twenty six years removed from an NCAA tournament appearance, wins like last night's first rounder over Ohio State is about building blocks.
“It's a win that we think can change the course of the program,” Hobbs said from the familiar Verizon Center locker rooms. “It's our first win ever in the league tournament. To get it against such a great program like Ohio State who has never lost a first-round game in a tournament, it's outstanding. Hopefully it will lead to bigger and better things for us.”
Hobbs, Steve Pikiell's associate head coach, coached for 10 seasons in the nation's capital at George Washington, including the memorable 27-3 2005-06 season. Winner of 166 games with the Colonials, getting one for Rutgers was a different feeling.
“[The players] get a great reward,” Hobbs said. “Their work, they see the effort and the commitment and this is the end result of it. It's going to give them a lot of confidence to know that if they continue to play this way, play the right way, our season can be extended."
An extended season gives the young Rutgers team an understanding of tournament play. Less than 24 hours after Hobbs and the rest of the team spoke in the locker room, they return to action for round two.
“It's really starting to come together,” Hobbs said. “All year, we made strides. We came close in a lot of ball games, and now we're learning how to win and how to finish those games. Part of that is making free throws, which has been a struggle for us all year. Now we're starting to make those free throws. Guys are starting to understand the importance of getting stops on the defensive end and rebounding the basketball.”
Pikiell hired Hobbs out of Connecticut, where both have strong ties. Year one at Rutgers, although trying with 17 losses so far, has been “outstanding.”
“It's been a great journey thus far, and I think it's going to continue to be a great journey,” Hobbs said. “I'm excited. Every day I get up and come to work, I'm excited and I'm enthusiastic about it. It's been wonderful. It's an outstanding staff with the synergy and commitment to excellence. We're all on board.”
Local fans and staff showed appreciation for Hobbs' GW successes before and after the game.
“It's always great being in DC,” Hobbs said. “I've got fond memories, particularly in this building from when I was at George Washington University. It brought back a lot of memories. It's great to get this win and to know that we're going to play [the next day].”
Northwestern is up next after Chris Collins' NCAA-hungry squad gave Rutgers two tough games during the regular season.
The sixth-seeded Wildcats won 69-60 and 69-65 in a pair of regular season games against Rutgers.