Mike Rice has waited all season long for Wally Judge to have a huge game.
Judge finally did, in mid-March, in the first round of the Big East tournament.
The former McDonald's High School All-American scored a season-high 20 points, making all nine of his shots from the field, in the Scarlet Knights' 76-57 win over DePaul on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Judge's 9-for-9 shooting performance tied the Big East tournament record for made field goals without a miss, previously established by Villanova's Ricky Wright in 2001, and equaled by Boston College's Craig Smith in 2005.
"Wally and the whole team, no matter what happened this year, continued to work," Rice said. "It's not a doubt in my mind that he's improved every single day because of it. It allowed him to have a night like this, a record-setting night like this. Again, shows you potential."
Rutgers (15-15) had lost 11 of its past 13 games entering this tournament, and was without leading scorer Eli Carter (14.9 ppg), who suffered a fractured fibula in the team's six-point loss at DePaul on Feb. 16.
But the Scarlet Knights shot a blistering 61.1 percent from the field (33-for-54) on Tuesday. They led by just a point at halftime, 32-31, thanks to 11 first-half turnovers, but cleaned things up in the second half and eventually blew the Blue Demons away.
"I thought for 40 minutes the energy, intensity, and the ability to play for one another was there," Rice said. "The first half, (we were) just too careless."
Sophomore guards Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears chipped in 19 and 15 points, respectively. But the star was Judge, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound junior forward, in his first season with the Scarlet Knights after transferring from Kansas State.
Judge came in averaging just 6.8 points per game, and his previous season-high was 14. But he was unstoppable on this night.
"It's a credit to him that he didn't hang his head," Rice said. "There were some rough times, and he just kept working. His response was tremendous."
Judge said he was motivated by the clean slate that the month of March and the postseason provides. "Anything can happen," Judge said. "You've seen Connecticut do it. You've seen George Mason do it. Anything can happen."
Now Rutgers gets to face No. 6 seed Notre Dame on Wednesday night, with a chance to make a surprising run to the quarterfinals.
Rice admitted he had higher expectations for this team than a 12th-place finish in the regular season, but he remains confident in the program's future -- especially if Judge continues to play like this.
"As I've said time and time again, this is going to happen," Rice said. "Rutgers basketball is going to happen. It's just slower than some people like, and maybe their coach, but it's going to happen."