The defensive effort was strong, there was very little tolerance when mistakes were made and even when the offensive lulls hit, the defensive effort remained intact.
Rice, in his fully animated sideline splendor, had a successful home debut and won for the first time in his Rutgers career, a 68-53 win against Fairfield in front of 3,810 Monday in which the Scarlet Knights put forth the type of defensive effort he plans on building the program on.
Fairfield (1-1) shot 29.1 percent from the field for the game, made only 6 of 26 shots (23.1 percent) in the second half and saw its star guard, MAAC player of the year contender Derek Needham, got 5 for 20 from the field.
"I'm very excited," Rice said. "I had jitters today. At Princeton, it was a regular game. It was exciting to be in the RAC, exciting to win in front of our home fans. Our guys really stepped up. They really did step up."
Defense wasn't the only strong point. Rutgers took care of the basketball and got balanced scoring. The Scarlet Knights (1-1) turned the ball over 10 times against 14 assists, and were buoyed by senior Jonathan Mitchell rebounding from a poor shooting performance in the opener to make 6 of 8 shots and score 15 points.
After going 1 for 11 against Princeton, he made a 3-pointer 14 seconds into the game to set the offensive tone.
"Tonight was the first game of the season for me," Mitchell said. "I think it just gives our team a chance to relax and say, ‘Ok, J-Mitch is here, he's ready to play tonight.' It got me going early with confidence."
Sophomore Dane Miller exemplified the type of overall game Rice is demanding as he scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds, blocked five shots and had two steals. Senior guard Mike Coburn added 14 points and five assists, and teamed with James Beatty to help shut down Needham, who finished with 14 points.
"Making him consistent is a maddening thing," Rice said. "It's an every-second job. He can be so creative and so explosive, and then he doesn't lock in on some of the lay-ups, or some of the defensive switches. He's accepted that demand and he's accepted being pushed. He'll get there."
But on a successful night, what stood out the most was the accountability in which Rice demands of his players – he is quick to substitute after mental breakdowns and poor on-court decisions – and the ability of the Scarlet Knights to put the game away.
Twelve seconds into the second half freshman Gilvydas Biruta scored on a dunk off a neat pass from Miller to put Rutgers ahead 37-27. Fairfield never got within single digits again.
And while Rutgers' biggest lead was 55-38 after Coburn's conventional three-point play with 9:30 remaining, the lock down defense ensured the Stags would not make a run to get back into it.
"We're more focused and we're buying into the system," Coburn said. "Keep attacking when it's open, move the ball and get great shots. Coach Rice says he doesn't want good shots, he wants great shots. So for our part we want to get great shots and extend the lead."