By Matt Sugam
For the final 4:30 of the game, Eli Carter saw the game from an unfamiliar perspective. The bench.
On a night where Carter was 1-of-14 from the field with five turnovers, Mike Rice sat his leading scorer for his porous play in Rutgers’ 72-60 loss to St. John’s.
Carter – who declined to speak with the media after the game – scored a season-low five points. In two games against St. John’s, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard is just 4-of-28 for 13 points. Three points below his points per game average.
“I don’t think it was them,” Myles Mack said. “I think it was just him missing shots that we know he can make. It happens to the best of us. Those two games just weren’t his day. It doesn’t have anything to do with St. John’s defense.”
But it hasn’t just been St. John’s. Cincinnati shut down Carter the game after the Red Storm did the first time.
“We have to address some situation, if you’re not scoring, there are other parts of the game that you can excel at to help your team,” Rice said, adding, “if it’s not dropping for one reason or another, pick up the challenge defensively, make some assists. Do something. Make a play for your team, a winning play.”
Which Rutgers (12-6, 3-4 Big East) needed in the worst way. They came into the game in a six-team tie for sixth place in the Big East.
A win would have had Rutgers tied for fourth in the Big East. The loss drops them to sole possession of tenth place.
However, it did’t have a big game feel. Despite Rutgers playing their biggest mid-January home game in seven years, it was a subpar atmosphere, with just 4,742 fans in attendance, including an unenthusiastic student section for the first game back after winter break.
“I don’t have control of the crowd and who shows up,” Rice said. “But I do have control of my team. I was very disappointed in our lack of compete tonight, and our lack of execution especially in the defensive end, and that’s what I can control. I know we’ll go back to work and gauge the fight in this team.”
Especially in Carter. Rice knows the scoring woes are negatively impacting the rest of the Paterson, N.J. native’s game.
“Right now it’s affecting him,” Rice said. “Not putting the ball in the bucket is affecting him while he’s on the floor.”
But it’s not just Carter that Rice has to fix. Rice feels that the entire team has to help make a change. And the third-year head coach has three days of practice with them to do so before Rutgers plays a crucial game at UConn.
“It’s a process,” Rice said. “We’ll do different things. We’ll have different looks. We have to find some answers here and it’s the coaching staff, and Eli and his teammates. We’ll figure it out.”