Rutgers coach Mike Rice pointed to sophomore wing Dane Miller's defense in the last seven minutes as the reason the Scarlet Knights pulled away for a 66-54 win against NJIT in front of 3,531 fans.
It gets stranger.
Miller's defensive difference came after an off night on the offensive end, which used to be a main ingredient for a mental lapse or three on the defense end, but instead showed no carryover.
Miller's tenacious and energetic defense trigged a 15-5 run during which NJIT (1-4) went 1 for 6 from the field and committed a turnover as Rutgers turned a four point lead into a 64-50 advantage with 2:15 to play.
He finished with three points on 1 of 7 shooting, and also turned the ball over three times in 31 minutes, but he found the passion to play defense and pull Rutgers out of its doldrums.
"Dane snapped them out of it," Rice said. "I emptied out the coaching notebook about motivation and firing up. I yelled, I applauded, I hugged, I cheered, I cursed. I did about everything.
"Again, one guy said enough's enough, and let me play kind of the right way, let me go and do what we do every single day, and it was frustrating."
Otherwise, it wasn't the type of energetic, crisp effort expected of the Scarlet Knights (4-2) early in the Rice era as NJIT used shifted from its usual outside shooting tendencies to the backdoor cut, scoring on lay-up after lay-up while remaining within six to eight points much of the night.
Rutgers was also uncharacteristically sloppy with the basketball, turning it over 14 times while mustering six assists as the ball movement and heads-up play-making gave way to ill-advised and contested shots.
"We played down," said Rutgers point guard James Beatty, who was held scoreless. "With the jersey not saying Miami, or not one of the other big-name schools, I guess we didn't bring the energy coach wanted us to from the jump."
The continued develop of Rutgers freshman Gilvydas Biruta was a positive as he scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
"I'm calling a set play for Gilvydas Biruta in the post with four minutes left to go," Rice said. "I'm talked to (associate head coach) David (Cox), ‘Should I have my head examined?' Two games ago he couldn't catch the ball. There is some growth, there are some positives to take away.
"It's just one thing we have to learn from this is we're not good enough to just show up against any opponent on our schedule."
It was Biruta's pair of free throws with 7:08 remaining that triggered the decisive 15-5 run, and he ended it with a 3-pointer.
"Through experience, and coach always yelling to keep your poise," Biruta said, "that helps a lot."
"Coach used a great analogy," Mitchell said. "They were Rutgers, and we were Miami tonight. We're not good enough to do that, so we have to raise our level of demand, police each other more, and come back tomorrow and work."