Consistent effort lifts?Knights at home
Mike Rice would rather think about the 100th win of his head coaching career with his feet in the sand in the offseason. But the Rutgers men’s basketball team brought the beach to Rice on Saturday, outlasting visiting Cincinnati, 61-54, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
“There wasn’t a turnover, a foul, a missed shot,” Rice said. “We stayed the course. We had that toughness for 40 minutes, and that’s important for this team.”
Freshman guards Eli Carter and Myles Mack combined for 23 second-half points, sparking a 17-5 run the Scarlet Knights (12-10, 4-5) never relinquished. Carter, who scored only two points in the first half, shot 5-for-6 from the field in the second half.
He hit an out-of-rhythm 3-pointer in the waning moments of the shot clock. He finished with contact around the rim. And he even banked in a 3-pointer off the top of the backboard from the corner.
“That wasn’t planned at all,” Carter said of the shot, which widened Rutgers’ lead to 9. “But it went in, so I’ll take it.”
Junior wing Dane Miller did damage on the glass, as well. The Rochester, N.Y., native grabbed nine first-half rebounds en route to a game-high 12. He added 10 points, four assists and two blocks for good measure.
“He gives the young guys confidence when he does that,” Rice said of Miller. “When he’s engaged like that and finishing through contact, it helps.”
But Rice pointed to Miller’s actions on the Rutgers sideline as one of his main points of growth. While the Knights struggled to put the Bearcats (15-7, 5-4) away, Miller halted a sideline spat between two younger players. For once, Rice watched. He did not have to be the intermediary.
For his part, Miller dismissed it.
“I’m just trying to win,” he said. “Anybody could’ve done that. Everybody was antsy a little bit because there were a few plays where we did some really stupid stuff. But anybody could’ve done that.”
But this time it was Miller.
At other points the Knights’ guards took control, penetrating and leading to an 18-point advantage in the paint. During more spurts they ran in transition, outscoring Cincinnati, 16-3, in fast-break points. And then they defended, holding the Bearcats to only 35.7-percent shooting.
“It was part of not getting in our own way, whether it’s turnovers, fouling too much,” Rice said. “I thought we had toughness, and still we did it with discipline. We were chasing them off the 3-point line, and help was very aggressive and attacking.”
In Rice’s eyes, the team followed his formula. It forced more turnovers (14) than the fouls it committed (13).
Rice hinted at its 2-point loss to Georgetown as a comparison and then abruptly stopped. It was time to focus on a win, the Knights’ third against a top-eight Big East team at the time.
He trusts they respond with energy, but he will not place bets.
“I’m going to be demanding as hell [today],” Rice said. “I hope they’re going to be happy, [that] they’re not going to want to have that level of demand placed upon them, but they have to. It won’t surprise me.”
The Knights continue to inch closer to a .500 mark in Big East play. They are now tied for 10th in the conference standings with intra-state rival Seton Hall, which continues to slide after losing four straight.
“It’s big,” Miller said. “We let one go against DePaul just because of how we handled things. Now we have a chance to get back on the road and get a couple wins — end up on the left side.”
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