Scarlet Knights junior wing Dane Miller, playing for Investment Bank, simply took over in the second half. Using his strength and athleticism to score, defend and rebound, he willed his team to a 108-101 victory over the Rutgers-led Ned Stevens Gutter Cleaners in the regular season finale of the Verizon Fios Jersey Shore Basketball League.
Miller showed offensive skills he didn't display last season, making a trio of 3-pointers to close the first half and then scoring with his back to the basket in the second half en route to 32 points in a game he dominated when he had to.
It led to Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice tweeting shortly thereafter: "I guess Dane decided to take the Frosh to school tonight in the #JSBL. I like it!"
Yup, Miller schooled the six Rutgers freshmen on the Gutter Cleaners, and in the process showed a newfound maturity, and there is little substitute for talented experience.
Junior center Austin Johnson, who also plays for the Gutters Cleaners, expressed it best when asked whether the freshmen – Jerome Seagears, Myles Mack, Elijah Carter, Derrick Randall, Malick Kone and Greg Lewis – receiver a lesson, and learned the value of strength in the loss.
"Um, yeah," he said while shaking his head and smiling. "You can tell the difference."
At one key juncture late in the fourth quarter, Carter was guarding Miller on the wing when the Gutter Cleaners went with a three-guard lineup. Miller backed Carter down, created space with a little bump and elevated for an 8-foot jumper to give his team the lead.
And, Miller did it easily.
"Last year, coming into the season, I think everybody thought it was going to be my team because of the freshman year I had," said Miller, who also added 10 rebounds and eight assists. "(Jonathan Mitchell) worked really hard in the offseason and took it over, and I was happy to see J-Mitch do that.
"Now, me and J-Mitch talk, me and the coaches talk, and what everybody tells me is I have to be more selfish. Everybody knows I'm going to pass the ball, but I think this year I need to focus mainly on scoring the ball."
Miller also imposed his will on the other side of the court. He defended well, helped shut off penetration with his ability to slide over and block shots, and was also a dogged rebounder.
In fact, Miller played higher than everyone, faster than everyone, more in control and with a better purpose than anyone else on the court, and it was easy to see. He also displayed confidence in his jump shot, particularly spotting up and shooting 3-pointers.
"We've been in the weight room five days a week, and Dane has really benefitted from that," Johnson said. "He's been making leaps and bounds with his bench press and his squat, and you can see it on the court. I can see how much better he's gotten.
"It's hard to match up with somebody like Dane Miller. He's a one-of-a-kind type of talent. He's long and athletic, and he can do a lot of different things on the court. If he can bring that every night during the season, that's going to help us tremendously."
And the lessons learned from it won't end with the final buzzer.
The teams could meet in one of the later rounds of the playoffs, which begin Monday, but there may not be a re-match. It gives Miller plenty of time to talk about carrying his team to the win. "He's going to talk a lot," Johnson said. "That's what Dane does. That's the main reason I didn't want to lose this game."
Of course, Johnson acknowledged he was one of the players stoking Miller's fire throughout the day.
"The whole day they were talking about how they were going to beat us, and how it was going to be easy," Miller said. "At one point it looked like they were going to beat us, but we have a good team and I'm glad we won so I don't have to hear about it."
The Gutter Cleaners play Larson Ford in the first round of the playoffs Monday at 8:45 p.m. at St. Rose High.