Rutgers was up 21 points, and comfortable, and that was the problem.
Whereas a double-digit lead with 10 minutes remaining used to be cause for celebration and a few sighs of relief, Rice clearly expects more.
Although Rutgers beat Fairleigh Dickinson 79-65 in front of 4,026 Tuesday at the Rutgers Athletic Center in game that wasn't as close as the final indicated, things were no honky dory.
"When it's time to put somebody away, a knockout punch so to speak, this team seems to get in its own way," Rice said. "Whether it's missed front ends of one-and-ones, turnovers, missed defensive assignments, splits. It's happened for the last three games."
Rutgers (7-2) was led in scoring by Jonathan Mitchell's 22 points, 17 of which came as the Scarlet Knights were building a 40-25 halftime lead. Dane Miller added 13 points and nine rebounds and Gilvydas Biruta had 11 points.
In winning a fourth straight, the Scarlet Knights moved the ball well around against FDU's zone defense. Rutgers' 22 assists were the most by the team since they had 26 against Maine in a 25-point win Dec. 15, 2005.
However, the positives were not what were accentuated as the Scarlet Knights continually let FDU fight back and remain in striking distance.
"I think it's a matter of playing the same way you did to build a lead," Rice said. "It's playing with that energy and urgency and purpose. They tend to relax. They tend to play a little looser. You explain that you may get away with it now, but it's not going to be like that when we take our final exam, the Big East season.
"That's the growth I'm looking for. I think they play hard. …They have to get better."
The crux of Rice's message may have been nit-picky, but it had a point.
Rutgers led by double digits for the final 24 minutes, but saw a 47-27 lead trimmed to 51-37 with 15:13 to play.
And when Rutgers extended to a 62-41 lead with 10:01 remaining, rather than get a few more defensive stops and take good shots on offense to put the game away, the Scarlet Knights had breakdowns as FDU cut the lead to 64-52 with 6:29 remaining.
"I think sometimes we might be tired and we might lose focus," Mitchell said. "We just have to work through those things, and coach Rice is definitely big on mental toughness."
After the game, Rice's message was clear, especially to the seniors.
"He told us we need to get better, and we're not playing the way we need to play, and we're not playing the way we know we can play," senior point guard Mike Coburn said. "Yeah, we gotta win, but there's a lot more details we have to do better."