Monmouth arrives at perfect time

<p>Junior wing Dane Miller said the Scarlet Knights need everyone
on board to turn the team’s season around. Their first chance is
tonight against visiting Monmouth.</p>

Junior wing Dane Miller said the Scarlet Knights need everyone on board to turn the team’s season around. Their first chance is tonight against visiting Monmouth.

Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice likely looked to his bench Wednesday during the Scarlet Knights’ heartbreaking loss to Princeton. He wanted to turn to his seniors.

But on the bench sat only seldom used walk-ons Mike Kuhn and Charlie Rigoglioso.

“When you’re on a good team, something like that happens … the coach generally doesn’t say anything. It’s the seniors,” Rice said Wednesday. “It’s the upperclassmen who want to rip one of these guy’s throats out because this is a loss. This is one of their 31 games you’re ruining right now.”

The Knights do not have the luxury of scholarship seniors after its four members from the Class of 2008 transferred following their first two seasons.

They boast junior forward Austin Johnson, the team’s de facto spokesperson. They also lay claim to junior wing Dane Miller, whose unselfish play drew Rice’s admiration. And on any given day Rice sees leadership from sophomores Gilvydas Biruta and Mike Poole.

But Rutgers needs its leadership from all directions, Miller said.

“The whole team — everybody talks about leadership,” he said Wednesday. “At the same time the whole team has to understand. It’s obvious.”

Rice said Wednesday he continues to try to find ways to connect with his team. He said he never experienced disconnect at any other stop on his coaching tour, including stints at Pittsburgh and St. Joe’s.

But he also never had 10 underclassmen and only two players with at least two years’ experience on his roster.

“Unfortunately we don’t have that right now in terms of self-policing, guys making sure one another are doing their part of the bargain,” Rice said.

If there was ever a time to welcome Monmouth to the Louis Brown Athletic Center, it is tonight. The Hawks are 2-7, producing scoring outputs of 39, 46 and 49 points, respectively. They lost by scoring margins of 32, 45 and 36 points, respectively, during those contests.

But they also have seniors Will Campbell and Mike Myers-Keitt, who the Knights saw during the summer at the Jersey Shore Basketball League in Belmar, N.J.

Still, Rutgers needs desperately to get back to winning ways, which each of Rice’s five active freshmen never had a problem doing in high school.

“It’s been very difficult,” said freshman point guard Myles Mack on Wednesday. “I haven’t lost this many games since I was in high school. It’s very difficult for me to handle, but I’m going to try to handle it in the best way possible.”

Mack said he expected Rice to change the team’s dynamic “in every way — how hard we go, how Coach Rice is going to handle things.”

Rice said he knew ways to enforce his methods if the Knights did not voluntarily buy in.

“There’s coaching tricks, making sure when they make those mistakes it’s not a pleasant practice for the next hour or two,” he said. “We just keep doing that and thinking, ‘I’m going to make the difference. It was a selfish performance [against Princeton].”

There is still time to right the ship this season. The Knights can still improve their RPI against No. 12 Florida before beginning their Big East schedule. But they must first start to salvage against meager Monmouth.

“They’re going to get a message, simple and plain,” Rice said. “There’s going to be a message. We’re not going to make the mistakes. We’re going to start playing for one another. Do I think they’re bad? No, there’s talent there.”

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