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Senior wing provides RU with options

<p>Senior forward Dane Miller remains the best option to spell starters.</p>

Senior forward Dane Miller remains the best option to spell starters.

Mike Rice walked to the podium Monday night at Villanova, where his two primary ball-handlers played 35 and 36 minutes each.

The head coach of the Rutgers men’s basketball team has gotten used to these walks, having lost eight of his last nine games.

But in his first procession without leading scorer Eli Carter — lost to a fractured fibula Feb. 16 — it forced Rice to reevaluate the Scarlet Knights’ ball-handling duties.

Could senior wing Dane Miller figure into the equation?

“We have to figure out what do with Dane right now,” Rice said. “Certainly with the numbers … he has to step up. We need more.”

Rice’s response was the latest chapter in what has become a give-and-take relationship between Rice and Miller, once Rice’s prized pupil.

At 6-foot-6 and with a pass-first approach, Miller appears a likely candidate to take the burden off sophomore point guards Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears. He presents a size mismatch — especially with Mack or Seagears on the bench — and has arguably the best court vision on the team.

But Miller has not started since Jan. 30 and is averaging only 23 minutes per game since then.

He did not take a shot against the Wildcats, recorded one rebound and had a 2-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Miller admitted Oct. 17 at Big East Media Day he struggled with confidence the last two seasons, one removed from finishing runner-up in the league’s Rookie of the Year voting. He questioned others’ faith in him, wrestled with taking shots and second-guessed his on-ball defense — arguably Miller’s strength.

He spoke with mentor John Wallace, a former NBA player and fellow Rochester, N.Y., native, about his troubles.

But Miller said that was behind him, thanks to what he called his best offseason, once he spent with a collection of former Division-I players and international pros.

Rice has often prodded Miller, once the focus of Rice’s vision for the team’s future, to be more assertive. He lamented the Knights’ lack of leadership last year, when Miller appeared a likely fit to lead.

But as Rice sat at the postgame podium Monday at the Pavilion, he appeared at a final crossroads.

Four games remain this season, and Rice has spent 89 in total watching over Miller’s progress.

Miller has shown glimpses of his ability — he scored 17 points and added 10 rebounds, while holding Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell to 6-for-21 shooting in 2011 — but not much has materialized.

Rice might not have a choice but to entrust Miller one more time.

Mack and Seagears will likely not last long playing nearly 40 minutes a game, and Rice admitted as much after losing at Villanova. Seagears became mentally fatigued, Rice said, and a heavy workload could burden Mack’s 5-foot-9 frame.

Rice said he might play sophomore Malick Kone and junior Vincent Garrett more, but neither features the ball-handling ability Rice wants on the floor.

Rice said he would now pass more out of full-court pressure than dribbling through it.

Mack and Seagears almost exclusively attacked full-court traps from Villanova while three teammates took position at the other end of the floor. Rice used Miller sparingly against the press.

“It’s one thing to attack pressure. It’s another thing to get sped up,” Rice said Monday. “That’s what pressure does to you. Just take the ball out, and let’s execute.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.

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