Miller embraces scoring role at SHU
NEWARK — The Rutgers men’s basketball team established its long-range game from the outset Saturday against Seton Hall, as 9 of the Scarlet Knights’ first 11 points at the Prudential Center came from 3-pointers.
Four of the five starters connected in the first 10 minutes.
Only junior wing Dane Miller did not have a 3-pointer to his name, but he entered the game 8-for-33 from long range. Then he banked in Rutgers’ first points of the second half.
Miller was active in the first half, but he took over in the second, scoring 16 points — 6 from the 3-point range — to lead Rutgers to a 77-72 overtime victory.
“[Head coach Mike Rice] wants me to be aggressive and shoot the ball,” Miller said. “It’s something that I’m working on because I’m so unselfish. Sometimes I try in practice to be aggressive and score, then on game day I come back to the same thing. It’s hard.”
Miller scored a game-high 21 points, topping the 20-point plateau for the first time since Jan. 20, 2010, when he scored 26 points for the second time as a freshman.
He struggled to impose himself offensively since, but not at the Prudential Center.
In three games in Newark, Miller averages 18 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
“That’s sometimes the frustrating part of Dane Miller. You love that he has this ability, but maybe it will become consistent,” Rice said. “I’m always a glass-half-full guy … but you just never know with Dane.”
Miller forced himself to become active against the Pirates (19-10, 8-9) with his defense and rebounding, which turned into an impressive offensive display in the second half.
Save for a missed lay-up when he did not realize Seton Hall’s Herb Pope had four fouls and would not contest his break to the basket, Miller looked in control the entire game.
He repeatedly attacked the rim, finding space in the lane to put up shots.
And when he scores in double digits this season, Rutgers (13-16, 5-11) is 7-3.
“He was the best athlete on the floor, and he should be that every single night to be honest with you — maybe not against Syracuse and Marquette,” Rice said. “He wasn’t moving the ball, jelly-rolling it from 15 feet. All the things that Dane likes to complicate situations, he didn’t. I thought he did a tremendous job playing at his tempo, and when it was time to be athletic and relentless, he was.”
While Rice praised Gilvydas Biruta’s ability to play under control against Seton Hall, the sophomore forward again flirted with foul trouble.
Biruta played the final minute of regulation and all of overtime with four fouls, providing the only inside presence after Rice quickly went away from bench options Kadeem Jack, Austin Johnson and Derrick Randall.
Biruta played 33 minutes, while the trio off the bench combined for 17.
Biruta scored 16 points with seven rebounds, but the rest combined for 4 points and two rebounds. Johnson fouled out after playing 10 minutes.
“If [Biruta] rebounds, he’s successful, and he was rebounding,” Rice said. “He was very, very active.”
Rutgers won its third game in five tries against Seton Hall under Rice and against Pirates second-year head coach Kevin Willard.
It was the fifth overtime game since 2005 between the teams, four of which Rutgers won. In the past 17 meetings, 15 were decided by 6 points or less, or in overtime.
“That’s what you get in your neighborhood get together,” Rice said.
Rice said he did not motivate his team to play spoiler against the Pirates, who would have all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid Saturday with a win. Now they must close the season with one next week against DePaul.
But his team was aware, meeting before tipoff to discuss the same theme.
“There was no way we could see them go to the tournament not knowing what we had here and our own expectations,” Miller said.