By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – After a porous performance by just about everybody in the shocking loss to St. Peter’s, Mike Rice hinted there’d be a shakeup to the starting lineup. After mulling it over with his coaching staff, those changes came in practice on Saturday in preparation for the game against Sacred Heart.
Out were guards Eli Carter and Jerome Seagers and forward Kadeem Jack. In were guard Myles Mack, wing Mike Poole and forward Austin Johnson.
“To be honest with you nobody deserved to start – Maybe Wally [Judge] and Austin deserved to start,” head coach Mike Rice said. “The staff and I discussed it at length on who was going to start. Guys who were continually consistent – even since June – consistent defensively that’s who we kind of went with.”
And it worked. Rutgers beat down an inferior opponent in Sacred Heart 88-62, looking more like the team everyone expected to see in the season opener.
“I don’t think it’s Eli, Kadeem and Jerome’s all fault because Mike Poole’s one for eight stunk the other night and Myles wasn’t any better,” Rice said. “But we went with guys and we wanted to send a message to other people.”
Which is something Rice plans to continue to do throughout the season.
“I don’t think we’re going to stay with one starting line up this year,” Rice said. “We’re going to send some messages every once in a while. ‘Hey we don’t like what you’re doing here. We need to get more effort’ or ‘do something with more purpose,’ and we may send a message that way.”
It was sent loud and clear to Carter.
The sophomore’s lackluster performance against St. Peter’s culminated in the waning moments with a lapse on defense and an ill advised three-pointer. In turn, the 6-foot-2 guard came off the bench for the first time since the beginning of last season.
“Yeah, kind of [an adjustment].” Carter said. “I’m used to starting. But it didn’t affect my game.”
Not at all. Carter came off the bench to score a game-high 18 points on an efficient 7-of-15 shooting.
“Eli had very good shots,” Rice said. “He had two kind of plays reminiscent of last year where he tried to do too much, but Eli missed a lot of open layups and a lot of open shots the first night, and so I thought he would bounce back.”
And Rice knew that not starting would get under Carter’s skin.
“He doesn’t like not starting. I’ll give you that. And his body language shows it,” Rice said. “Then go ahead and trust people. Trust the offense. Trust your teammates. And I thought he did that well tonight.”
Which begs the question of what to do with Carter. Start him, or keep him coming off the bench?
Rice isn’t sure what he’ll do with Carter for the game at Princeton on Friday night yet. It’s a decision he and his staff will make in the next 48 hours.
And despite the fact that he responded off the bench, it’ll will be tough for Rice to keep the teams top scorer there. Not to mention Carter showed the message was received.
“Everybody wants to start,” Carter said. “So if I don’t start that’s his decision. If I do start it’s his decision. It’s not going to affect my game.”