PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Year three under Mike Rice could be a very long one if the ugly season opener for Rutgers basketball was any indication.
Instead of experienced guard play and depth in the post, the Scarlet Knights showed nothing but regression in a shocking 56-52 loss to St. Peter’s. Instead of looking like a bubble team, Rutgers left the RAC losers against a team picked to finish last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“This was a shocker and something that I’m going to learn from,” Rice said. “I’m going to make sure our guys learn what they didn’t do. They didn’t respond.”
Sophomore guard Elijah Carter, last year’s leading scorer, summed up the fiasco best in the final minute. After the Peacocks took a two-point lead with 1:09 on the clock, Carter jacked up a long-range shot with 25 seconds on the shot clock.
He missed the rim by close to a foot.
A one-score game for the majority, St. Peter’s rode the free throw line to victory after Carter’s quick shot.
Every alleged strength Rutgers touted going into 2012 looked like a glaring weakness on the floor.
The sophomore guard trio looked more like freshmen than ever in the loss. Carter, Jerome Seagears and team captain Myles Mack were a combined 5-of-23 from the floor, committed nine turnovers and were good for just 15 points.
Carter shot for 17 percent and sat for 15 minutes of the first half with foul trouble.
“They didn’t play very well,” Rice said. “… They’re good kids. They just now have to become a little bit tougher and a little bit more disciplined.”
McDonald’s All-American and Kansas State transfer Wally Judge showed something – recording a double-double in his debut – but followed it up by fouling out.
“We thought it was going to be easy and obviously it wasn’t,” Judge said. “… I’ve never lost the first game of the season before.”
Senior Austin Johnson, who came off the bench, kept Rutgers alive with 10 second-half points, but headed to the locker room with the familiar sting of a bad loss.
“It’s a really upsetting loss, but the good thing about it is we have a ton of games left,” Johnson said.
Rutgers (0-1) never truly found its rhythm on the court, partly because of some erratic substitutions in the first half. Rice put 11 different players on the court in the first half – every healthy scholarship player on the roster.
“[I was] trying to find somebody who had any toughness to be honest with you,” Rice said. “We were just, again, trying to run away from people. Whether we were posting at 15 feet or they were bumping us off a screen, there was just a … mentally and physically they dominated our players.”