By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY -When Mick Cronin was game planning to face Rutgers, the focus on defense was simple. Slow down Eli Carter.
Well, Cincinnati did more than that. They shut Rutgers’ leading scorer down, holding him to 1-of-11 shooting, with the lone made field goal coming on a floater with less than a minute to go in Rutgers’ 68-58 loss at the RAC.
“It’s not easy,” Cronin said of shutting down Carter. “We did it as a team and tried to make it hard on him. Anybody that’s a scorer the level he’s a scorer, if you let him get started and get a rhythm, then it becomes really hard to defend and we really did a good job never letting him get started. He never really got into a flow.”
No, he didn’t. And for Carter, it’s the second straight game.
After going 3-of-14 against St. John’s, Carter is just 4-of-25 in the last two games. Well below his 41 percent shooting average from the field on the season as he leads Rutgers with 16.9 points per game.
“They’ve been scouting pretty well,” Carter said. “They’ve not let me get shots off our offense, so I just got to make moves myself.”
Something he’s struggled to do as he’s seen double and triple teams as soon as he takes a dribble – if not sooner – in half court sets.
“I think he just settled,” head coach Mike Rice said. “When you’re the leading scorer and you are off, you’ve got to get to the paint and create either contact or opportunities for others and he’s not doing that right now.”
To do the latter, Carter first needs to have more faith in his teammates.
“He’s got to start to now trust some of his teammates,” Rice said. “We want him with the ball. We want him creating. Just now maybe he has to create for others.”
Which Carter is well aware of.
“I got to do a better job of that too, getting my teammates open, getting them the ball in the spots that they like it,” Carter said.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
“It’s hard because he realizes he has to score for us,” Rice said. “But right now he’s taking low percentage shots and not getting fouled and that’s a tough equation.”
All the while making sure he doesn’t lose confidence in his ability to score. And not get too discouraged.
“It’s pretty frustrating. I just got to get back in the gym, do what I normally do,” Carter said. “I’ll be back in the next game, ready to play.”