NEW YORK – As a Kansas State transfer, Wally Judge watched helplessly from his spot on the bench as Rutgers blew a halftime lead and choked away its Big East tournament against Villanova.
Facing the same situation at halftime this year, the Kansas State transfer did something about it in the 76-57 victory over DePaul, the Kansas State transfer and former McDonald’s All-American could not be stopped. Judges scored 20 points and 10 points for a double-double.
“Seeing the team lose last year, it hurt,” Judge said. “You go to practice every day whether you’re sitting out or not. You go to practice and you see how much effort’s put in and you see the time and work. I know that last year those guys were just as crushed as I was to come in here and take a [loss] to a Villanova team that had beat us earlier in the year.”
Judge’s performance made for his highest scoring output since transferring to Rutgers and sends the Scarlet Knights to a second-round rematch with Notre Dame tomorrow night.
A Rutgers-high in scoring, Judge came within two of his best game at Kansas State and finished a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor.
“It’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s improved every single day because of [his work ethic],” said head coach Mike Rice. “It allowed him to have a night like this, a record-setting night like this.”
Rutgers (15-15, 5-13) washed away multiple memorable disappointments with the victory, avenging a six-point loss to the Blue Demons in Chicago and last year’s gaffe against Villanova in the Big East tournament.
Rutgers scored just 15 points the entire second half against the Wildcats in last year’s loss. Judge almost did that himself with 13.
“Hopefully, we’ve learned from our mistakes, Rice said. “Again, understand this may be the teams that we’ve beaten in the last two aren’t maybe the teams that had double byes. I’m well aware of it, but it feels good. It feels good to understand.”
In classic Rutgers fashion, a 13-point lead in the second half was not enough to close out a game. Rutgers allowed the Blue Demons to cut the lead to as little as eight points before Myles Mack closed the door with a steal and 3-pointer with four to play.
Judge and Rutgers will be hard-pressed to mimic its first-round success with big-time post Jack Cooley and Notre Dame up next.
Rutgers nearly stunned the Fighting Irish in South Bend, Ind., earlier this season but go into the game on short rest and without Elijah Carter, who scored 20 against Notre Dame.
“Anything can happen,” Judge said. “We’ve seen Connecticut do it. We’ve seen George Mason do it. Anything can happen.”