Detail-driven Knights Return to Action

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers returns to the court to host NJIT today (7:30 p.m.), and coach Mike Rice wants a better detailed defensive effort from the Scarlet Knights. In fact, Rice talked about where Rutgers is as a defensive team, and why its eagerness to play another game after the loss to St. Joseph's isn't necessarily a good thing.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – During pregame team meetings, wrappers on food are not allowed. It crinkles. It is too loud. It is a minor thing, but it is a distraction

Rutgers sophomore center Austin Johnson does a wonderful job of mixing a smile with fear in relaying the story, and to him, it is the best way to illustrate first-year Rutgers coach Mike Rice's attention to detail.

"I've never met anybody who's actually dwelled upon and emphasized all these small things before in my life," Johnson said. "It's stuff like that, but that's how he is, and that's why he's been successful as a coach."

Details are why Rice took 10 minutes out of Monday's practice to run the Scarlet Knights instead of teaching defensive concepts. Rutgers, which hosts NJIT today (7:30 p.m.), missed too many of those details in Friday's loss at St. Joseph's, and when those problems cropped up again in practice, Rice had enough.

"Their consistency with the details is something that seems to be lacking with this team," Rice said. "The effort, most of the time, is there. But as far as buying into all the details that you need, it's very inconsistent.

"If you don't do the details – closing out, forcing sideline, doing things that are part of our formula – you're not doing what we want you to do. You're not buying in. So the next two weeks, practices will become more difficult as we don't master some of the details of our defensive game plan."

St. Joseph's had too many open shots in the half-court offense, and as Rice pointed out, the Hawkks weren't coming off screens.

Senior guard Mike Coburn said the issue is focus. After years of playing reckless defensive basketball, Rice is demanding accountability on every possession, and the Scarlet Knights are learning what that means.

"You have to be focused on the small things; closing out, jumping to the ball, going to help side, talking," Coburn said. "In our system, it's pretty big things. You have to be so focused that you can't miss one thing, and it's so easy to miss one little detail."

Until the loss to St. Joseph's, execution of detail was improving.

Rutgers (3-2) held Fairfield to 29.1 percent shooting from the floor, and Miami shot 29.2 percent. Norfolk State shot 36.8 percent in the first half of a blowout win.

"He emphasizes that each possession we always have to bring the same intensity on the court," Johnson said. "It's little things. There's a bigger picture behind the little things, and that's why he dwells on them so much. One little minor mistake can lead to costing you a game or not.

"It's being in the right position, helping up the line, attacking the help, rebounding the ball as a team. It's stuff like that."

The defensive detail suffered against the Hawks, much like it did in the season opener at Princeton. St. Joseph's shot 57 percent from the field in the second half, and 51 percent for the game.

The poor play left the Scarlet Knights anxious to play the next game and make amends, but Rice doesn't see that as a positive.

"They're eager to get back and prove themselves again, but that may be the problem with this team," Rice said. "It needs a little bit more energy and urgency. Not just with my two guards, either, Mike Coburn and James Beatty. If I could translate their urgency into the rest of my guys, I think we'd have a chance of going undefeated.

"Right now, I have to have more guys buy into the details and into being more consistent."

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