Rutgers Relishing National Exposure

Jonathan Mitchell

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers returned to the practice court Thursday, but the buzz was felt nationally a day after Jonathon Mitchell's four-point play lifted the Scarlet Knights past No. 9 Villanova, 77-76. Coach Mike Rice and Mitchell both made national media appearances, and the topic of the win was discussed coast-to-coast.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The wave of attention began early in the morning, and well beyond the SportsCenter highlights.

The "Boomer and Carton Show" played Rutgers Radio Network announcer Chris Carlin's call of Jonathan Mitchell's four-point play time and again, and Mitchell was a phone-in guest to ESPN's "First Take" morning sports and schmoozing show.

Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice was on WFAN with Mike Francesca, as well as several shows on the Sirius radio, and rather than two or three reporters at Thursday's practice, there were about a dozen, including television.

Basking in the glow of the program's finest moment since an appearance in the NIT final in 2004, the Scarlet Knights are finally captured headlines for accomplishments on the basketball court, and much of the thanks are sent Jonathan Mitchell's way.

Mitchell, a senior power forward from Mount Vernon, N.Y., gave the Scarlet Knights the impossible win with his 25-foot, 3-point basket and foul shot with .8 seconds remaining as they beat No. 9 Villanova 77-76 Wednesday.

"This morning, when my son is sitting there and instead of getting ready for school and he's watching SportsCenter, and he's yelling, ‘Dad, it's on,' it does hit home," Rice said. "We're in the Big East and we get media attention, but you don't get national media attention, and that hit home how big, and not just how big the win was, but how we did it; a four-point play with .8 seconds is a remarkable, and national event."

The Scarlet Knights host Seton Hall on Saturday (7 p.m.), and there is concern about Rutgers being mentally focused for the game.

However, Rice said he didn't exactly tighten the screws during Thursday's light practice.

"I'll try to bring them back to reality, but I don't want to smack then too hard because I want them excited," Rice said. "I want them hopeful about what's coming up."

Mitchell finished with a career-high 25 points, and was also sent a "Trotter Tribute" by the Harlem Globetrotters, who will be in New Jersey next weekend.

The attention is not something Mitchell takes lightly, especially after he won a national championship at Florida as a freshman but transferred to Rutgers after his sophomore season.

"It means hard work really does pay off it you stay persistent because people wrote me off after I left Florida," Mitchell said. "I just think it was a blessing from the Man above to keep me in his plans and have something in store for me."

Mitchell compared the game-winning shot, and rallying from a 10-point deficit with less than three minutes to play, against being a reserve on the Gators' national title team.

"It's different kind of feelings," he said. "Being part of a national championship is kind of special. Not too many college athletes get to experience that, but last night, for me, hitting a game-winning shot in a Big East game and helping my team win a basketball, I think that was a little more gratifying for me."

Mitchell said his cell phone was overwhelmed with well wishes, as was his Facebook page. Scarlet Knights sophomore wing Dane Miller, who had two crucial steals to lead to a pair of 3-pointers on successive possessions in the final two minutes, was accepting congratulations before he even got to the bus for his morning classes.

"I'm kind of over it, but it's hard to be at a school like this and forget about it when everybody is talking about it," Miller said. "People started saying stuff before I even got on the bus to go to class. Once I walked outside, everybody was saying congratulations, walking around with the newspapers, shaking my hand, talking about when I stole the ball twice and J-Mitch's shot. "Everyone was really excited."

Despite the euphoria, Mitchell said he already spoke with the team about focusing on the Pirates.

"I told the guys after today's media (session), the Villanova game is over," Mitchell said. "We have Seton Hall team coming in here, after having a week off preparing for us, looking to get one back. We can't sit back and think about the ‘Nova game."

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