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Randall gains Rice’s trust on defensive end

Knight Notebook

<p>Freshman forward Derrick Randall attempts a shot Saturday in
front of Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates (34)?and JaQuon?Parker.</p>

Freshman forward Derrick Randall attempts a shot Saturday in front of Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates (34)?and JaQuon?Parker.

At times, Derrick Randall wishes Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice trusted him enough to bring the ball up the floor. For now, the 6-foot-8 freshman forward is content to earn Rice’s good faith on defense.

“[Rice] trusts me on defense,” Randall said. “If they pass me the ball, I just stop and hold the ball and wait until the guards come and get it. He trusts me enough.”

The second-year head coach said he was pleasantly surprised with Randall’s development. The South Kent School (Conn.) product continues to earn his keep as a starter, providing a stabilizing force on the defensive end.

He did not have the easiest task Saturday, when Randall took on Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates, one of the Big East’s most formidable big men.

Gates finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, but most of his damage came in spurts.

“I was surprised because Yancy Gates is like 6-foot-7, 280 [pounds]. Whatever it is, he’s a big kid,” said junior wing Dane Miller. “The way Derrick Randall and Austin Johnson and Gilvydas [Biruta] played was great.”

Miller said Saturday the Scarlet Knights would have lost against the Bearcats if not for the Knights’ work in the frontcourt. Randall played one of his best games on the interior, finishing with eight points, four rebounds and no fouls.

Rice even said Randall deserved an A-minus grade for his work as a help-side defender.

“He’s playing with more purpose,” Rice said. “It’s only because he’s focused more. He’s concentrating and listening more. That’s allowed him to be successful.”

Randall struggled during the beginning of the season, when smaller non-conference opponents tested his perimeter defense. Sure, he wants to dribble like a guard. But defending beyond the paint was not in Randall’s itinerary.

“When I’m playing against shorter people, it’s harder for me,” Randall said. “But when I’m playing against big people, it’s easier for me to adjust to everything. I play well against them.”

Randall said the Big East’s physical reputation played a part in his commitment to Rutgers. But he failed to finish consistently around the rim, which Rice turned into a major harping point.

“Everybody just told me to go up strong,” Randall said. “I just tell myself during the game, ‘Go up strong. Try to dunk. If you miss it, it’s going to be a foul.’”

Freshmen forwards Kadeem Jack and Malick Kone did not see game action against Cincinnati, but Rice said one could be in line for playing time.

“Kadeem is going to fit in more and more,” Rice said. “Our last game, it was one of those things where for the first time our guys weren’t in foul trouble. They were all producing to be honest with you.”

Jack arrived at Rutgers a semester early in 2011 after leaving the South Kent School and spending a brief stint at Central Jersey Each One Teach One in Somerset.

He was the Knights’ top recruit in the Class of 2011 before he re-classified as a member of the 2010 recruiting class.

“Kadeem’s got to be better with his focus,” Rice said. “We have such a small margin of error. I have to be confident Kadeem knows exactly what I want from him.”

Kone remains a difficult case study, Rice said.

“Malick’s not preparing as well as I’d like in practice, to be honest with you,” he said. “He’s not as engaged as someone who’s ready. He hasn’t earned it.”

The Knights own four wins in conference play, each against teams ranked in the top eight in league standings at the time. But they also lost to South Florida, usually a Big East also-ran, and DePaul.

“We prepare as if it’s the national championship every game,” Rice said. “If I knew [why the team isn’t consistent], I would change that.”

Rutgers takes on Providence, 1-8 and last in the Big East, tomorrow before traveling Saturday to Louisville, tied for fourth in the conference standings.

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