Eli Carter broke a team rule. A minor team rule, but he broke it nonetheless. And breaking that rule landed him squarely on the bench to start the game yesterday.
And that gave Jerome Seagears an opportunity.
Seagears, who'd been struggling all season, played his best basketball of the season, and Rutgers' best half of the season coincided. The Knights stormed out of the gates and blitzed the Panthers, who appeared to sleep through their first half alarm. Rutgers quickly built a 15-5 lead.
And it didn't stop there. When the halftime buzzer rang, Rutgers was up 39-23, almost the exact opposite of the Syracuse game.
But in the second half, Pittsburgh decided not to go home to watch their bowl game. They came out with a defensive intensity and caused something like 5 turnovers on the Rutgers end to start the half. They would get within 2 points. Rutgers bent, but didn't break. Wally Judge and Austin Johnson hit some tough hook shots, Mike Poole found his mid-range jumper, and the foul line was Rutgers friend.
As for the Eli Carter infraction? Don't worry about that. Carter lead all scorers with 23 points, and really helped Rutgers break the Panthers spirit. The coach classified the violation as minor and brushed it off in the postgame interview.
Myles Mack started to break out of his slump, hitting a couple of long threes and lay-ups in transition.
In his first home game back from the suspension, Coach Mike Rice was intense, fired up, but still reserved on the court. There weren't any meltdowns, and the team responded.
And Seagears? His stat line wasn't gaudy, 7 points and 6 assists, but he only had 2 turnovers. He steadied Rutgers on the offensive end and played solid defense.
Now Rutgers is 10-3 and 1 and 1 in the Big East, with a big match-up against St. John's looming. The next five games are key for Rutgers as three or four of them are winnable.
But this was the first step. And the best part is, the Scarlet Knight still have room for improvement.