Rice witnesses development despite defeat

<p>Freshman Eli Carter attempts a transition 3-pointer over
Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine on Sunday while the Knights trailed by 4
points during the final two minutes of their 74-64 loss. Rutgers’
young roster concludes a tough stretch tonight at No. 10
Marquette.</p>

Freshman Eli Carter attempts a transition 3-pointer over Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine on Sunday while the Knights trailed by 4 points during the final two minutes of their 74-64 loss. Rutgers’ young roster concludes a tough stretch tonight at No. 10 Marquette.


As Eli Carter brought the ball up the floor in transition Sunday against No. 2 Syracuse, Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice looked for a great shot.

He instead got a good one, as the freshman guard settled for a 3-point attempt with the Scarlet Knights down by 4 points and 90 seconds left on the clock. The Knights lost, 74-64, for the seventh time in eight games.

“I like the fact that he thinks he’s going to make it and he has enough toughness to shoot it,” Rice said Sunday. “But now he has to understand you can’t do that. You have to grind out a great possession.”

Rice said he watched a similar process occur at Villanova, where four freshmen earn significant playing time for head coach Jay Wright.

The Wildcats lost in overtime Monday after holding a double-digit lead against floundering Connecticut. They fell again Saturday, when No. 20 Notre Dame overcame a 20-point deficit in overtime. Villanova has lost six of seven games.

But Rice has five freshmen contributors of his own to worry about, although he insists he sees development.

“We’ve improved in so many areas,” Rice said. “[Freshman point guard] Jerome Seagears’ penetration, his composure and his purpose on the offensive end are coming along very well.”

Carter, Seagears and freshman point guard Myles Mack combined to shoot 3-for-16 from beyond the arc in Rutgers’ loss to Syracuse. Each shoots better than 30 percent from 3-point territory on the season.

“After you miss a few,” said junior wing Dane Miller on Sunday, “you hesitate to take the next one.”

If Carter thought twice on that fateful jumper from the perimeter, he did not show it. The Knights’ leading scorer took 13 shots against the Orange, but none were bigger than the one he put up with the game on the line.

“They’ve played 27 games now,” said sophomore guard Mike Poole on Sunday. “They’re not freshmen anymore.”

Kadeem Jack could beg to differ. The redshirt freshman forward made his first start of the season Feb. 15 at Notre Dame. He first appeared Dec. 29 against then-No. 10 Florida.

Jack continues to make modest gains on the floor for Rice, but Rice said the 6-foot-9 Jack progresses with “leaps and bounds.”

Jack scored 4 points and added three rebounds in 13 minutes against the Orange.

“He’s going to finish that once he gets stronger,” Rice said. “There’s a process and a progression to what I think Kadeem has the ability to do. … I think he’s going to be tremendous for us because he has such natural athletic ability.”

Jack earned his first significant playing time Feb. 8 against Seton Hall in a matchup both teams could ill afford to lose. The Knights (12-15, 4-10) came out on the short end, facing a brutal three-game stretch afterward that ends tonight at No. 10 Marquette (22-5, 11-3).

The Golden Eagles handled UConn on Saturday, 79-64, clinching a double-round bye in the Big East Tournament. Senior forward Jae Crowder scored a career-high 29 points, earning Big East Player of the Week honors in the process.

Five players on head coach Buzz Williams’ roster average at least 8.5 points per game, headlined by senior Darius Johnson-Odom’s 18.6, second best in the Big East.

Williams picked up Crowder and Johnson-Odom after two and one season, respectively, in the Junior College ranks.

Williams’ team is arguably its deepest since he took over in 2008, even in the absence of big men Chris Otule — out for the season — and Davante Gardner, who remains sidelined with a nagging injury.

The Golden Eagles currently ride a three-game winning streak and have won 10 of 11 Big East contests.


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