That double-overtime victory over Florida on Dec. 29? It's starting to seem like it took place a lifetime ago for Mike Rice and the Scarlet Knights.
Since then, Rutgers has dropped two Big East games in a row, a road contest against South Florida and an 85-64 blowout at home to West Virginia. Now, it has to prepare for defending national champion Connecticut, which comes to town on Jan. 7 fresh off its own blowout loss at the hands of Seton Hall.
And based on what he's seen over the past week, Rice knows that his team has a lot to work on before tipoff.
"We certainly showed that we have a glass jaw, when they started making Big East plays," Rice said after the loss to the Mountaineers. "We don't have a guy that shows any emotion or (a guy) that is not going to let it happen to him. We were very quiet, very passive. We're still are doing things that are hurting us, like missing free throws. We need to find ways to stay in the game when things are not exactly going your way. We did not find ways to stay in the game tonight."
He's looking at the Connecticut game as another test for the Scarlet Knights, to see whether facing a team with a big front line and talented backcourt causes his team to show up fighting, or to again sit back passively and allow an opponent to come to the RAC and win.
"We will see how we play on Saturday if it is a step back for us," Rice said. "With this team, we have to keep on grinding. I am trying to get as many guys playing with poise, purpose and toughness as I possibly can. It was not good. I do appreciate the guys who had some pride in the second half, but there are just not enough guys like that on this team. We will remedy that in practice."
It's not unexpected with a young team, but Rutgers did not show the intensity against South Florida than it did in the previous game, the double-overtime victory over Florida. And it's fair to say that Mike Rice noticed.
"I hated our intensity in the first 10 minutes of the ball game," Rice said. "I hated our lack of communication in the huddle. I probably said 10 words the whole time in the huddle versus Florida. (The South Florida) game was too quiet".
Though the coaching staff is pleased with the development of its young players, it's still missing one key ingredient: a leader.
"We don't have a great senior leader," Rice said. "We don't have a guy who takes this team and leads it when things aren't going well."
Rutgers has been led by the freshmen this season, particularly lately. In each of the last eight games, either Eli Carter or Myles Mack have led the Scarlet Knights in scoring.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- The number of points Mike Rosario scored in his return to the RAC. The McDonald's All-American and ex-Scarlet Knight was booed constantly while wearing a Florida uniform, and struggled to 2-6 shooting in 14 minutes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's unfortunate we couldn't put back-to-back games together. I still think we're improving and having new players step up." -- Rutgers coach Mike Rice, after the South Florida defeat.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES: --vs. Connecticut, Jan. 7
KEY MATCHUPS: The defending Big East champions come to the RAC with a squad that's both young and experienced. Rutgers has athleticism on the perimeter to chase the Connecticut guards, but freshman Andre Drummond is a tough matchup for the Scarlet Knight big men to deal with.
ON THE SPOT: If you can figure out Dane Miller, now would be a good time to offer your expertise to the Rutgers coaching staff. An all-rookie pick in the Big East two years ago, his career since then has been the definition of mercurial, up one week and down the next. He played just 11 minutes against the Mountaineers on Jan. 4, missing all three shots he took from the field, and after the game it was obvious that coach Mike Rice is sick of talking about it. "I'm not talking about Dane right now. Our team gave up 57 percent on the night. We missed 13 free throws, turned the ball over (numerous times), had no unity. This is bigger than Dane. It certainly could help, but it's just the way it is," Rice said.
FUTURES MARKET: Derrick Randall provided instant offense off the bench against South Florida, finishing with 10 points. The freshman entered the weekend with 17 total points in his college career, but could find himself in the starting lineup this week thanks to his strong performances over the past two games.
--Freshman forward Derrick Randall got his first career start on Jan. 4 against West Virginia. He finished with two points, two steals, a rebound and four fouls in 20 minutes.
--Freshman guard Eli Carter again had a strong game for the Scarlet Knights, leading the team with 19 points against the Mountaineers. He's averaging 24.3 points over his last three games.
--Malick Kone made his return from arthroscopic knee surgery against South Florida, playing seven minutes, grabbing a rebound, and missing his only shot from the floor.
--Kadeem Jack made his Rutgers debut against Florida, coming off the bench to play three minutes in the victory. He's still getting back into shape from the broken foot he suffered in October, but should help solidify the paint as the Big East season progresses.