Notes: J-Mitch's Play, Biruta, Accountability

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers senior Jonathan Mitchell has turned around from a poor start to the season to leading the team in scoring, rebounding and 3-point shooting entering Thurday's game against St. Peter's. Also, coach Mike Rice talks about Gilvydas Biruta's development, where the Scarlet Knights are as a team and Mitchell discusses the huge difference between now and last year.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – When Jonathan Mitchell missed 10 of his first 11 shots during the season, he didn't worry. When the 6-foot-7 senior power forward was shooting 34 percent through five games, he didn't panic.

Now, as Rutgers enters Thursday's game with St. Peter's (7:30 p.m.) at the Rutgers Athletic Center, no one is scoring more, rebounding more or shooting better from long-range than Mitchell.

Since a slow start, Mitchell is shooting 50.8 percent from the field and averaging 16.2 points in the last five games.

"I think it's he being a veteran, being more confident," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "He's so much more confident with his moves now, and knows where to find shots, and where to get quality shots."

In the last five games, Mitchell is 10-19 from 3-point range.

"I'm pretty confident in my abilities right now," Mitchell said. "So, when I come off a screen, and I have a split second, I'm trying to let it go because I feel like me taking a good shot, it means I can either score for us or we can hit the offensive boards if I miss."

Even with an early-season slump in which Mitchell averaged 8.6 points and shot 34 percent from the field, he leads the Scarlet Knights in scoring (12.4 ppg), rebounds (6.3 rpg) and 3-point shooting (44.1 percent).

However, Mitchell's confidence wasn't rattled early because he kept thinking back to what Mike Rice Sr., the announcer for the NBA's Portland Trailblazers and dad of the Rutgers coach, told him.

"He said you have to act like a pro and have a short-term memory," Mitchell said. "That's been my motto all season, good or bad. I had a couple of good games, but let's get it over with. St. Peter's is next, so let's get ready for them."

Scouting St. Peter's
The Peacocks enter the RAC with a five-game winning streak. They own a one-point win against Alabama but lost to Seton Hall by 20 points.

But since the return of leading scorer Wesley Jenkins (11.6 ppg), who missed four games, St. Peter's is playing better, and Rice does not view this as the last tune-up before the schedule takes a decidedly tougher turn with a game against North Carolina preceding the Big East schedule.

"This is a good team," Rice said. "They lost some early when they didn't have their best scorer, but this is a team that should probably be 9-3, and they were picked second in the MAAC. This is a very good team, and a very veteran team, so this is not a tune-up."

Rutgers is 8-2, and a win will give Rice the best start of a Rutgers coach since the 1945-46 season.

But it doesn't mean all is rosy.

"We're taking care of the ball, we're defending, and we're efficient on offense," Rice said. "We have a good shooting percentage (.459), but we still lack consistency and don't have the edge the way great teams do. We're improving."

Biruta's adaptation
After getting into foul trouble early in the season, freshman center Gilvydas Biruta has become a stabilizing force inside. He was recruited to play power forward and wing, but a lack of depth forced him to middle, where he is averaging 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

But, has he surpassed what Rice envisioned at this point in the season?

"Yes, because he didn't like it at the beginning, so it's hard to get somebody to do something he doesn't enjoy," Rice said. "But he's come to enjoy it a little more. He's kind of banged up a little bit because he plays so hard, and so reckless.

"But if you'd have told me his numbers were nine (points) and five (rebounds) and field goal percentage (of 56.4) and rebounding, yes, I would have taken it every day."

Rice said it is Biruta's commitment to getting better that is making the difference.

"He cares more. He really wants to be good," Rice said. "That's a good characteristic to have. He really needs to be good."

Attitude change
It's impossible not to see the difference in energy and purpose the Scarlet Knights play with compared to past seasons, and the impact is being felt inside the program most.

"I think it's a good thing because everybody is accountable for each other, and for themselves," Mitchell said. "I feel like the level of demand and accountability is so much greater than it's ever been here."

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