Two minutes into Monday night's exhibition game against visiting McGill, it was evident that a Mike Rice coached team would bear little resemblance to a Fred Hill Jr. team. The ball movement alone reminded viewers, what few there were in attendance, what was sorely lacking from last season's 15-17 team. The Scarlet Knights' impressive ball touches led to 16 assists and an 80-68 win over McGill to usher in a new era on the banks.
"I was in the top 25 in assists for the last three years," Rice said of his teams at Robert Morris. "It has to happen. Actually, I wasn't real pleased...I thought we were very quick with a lot of our shots. This team can't be quick. We can be quick during misses and turnovers, but then we have to have patience and use each other."
Sophomore guard Dane Miller benefitted the most from RU's ability to move the ball and exhibit patience and sound decision making. Miller led all scorers with 19 points on 7-12 shooting. He also finished with 12 rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes of action.
"If we continue to move and share the ball, I think Dane will have a great year because Dane is a handful once he gets momentum going to the basket," Rice said. "The offense and how we do things and our constant motion and our constant screening, I think will help Dane and the rest of the guys spread the floor. Dane certainly takes advantage of that. He's so unselfish, he had four assists, and could have had seven or eight if guys knocked down open jumpers. Dane was good tonight offensively. Defensively, he didn't play with purpose."
Rutgers played with intensity, which should be no surprise since this is the word most commonly quoted by the team's players in the media guide when asked to describe Rice in one word. Unfortunately, intensity came at the sacrifice of control at times, especially on the defensive end, and the team finished the contest with 27 fouls.
"The same thing happened at Robert Morris (at) first, hopefully we'll correct it quicker," Rice said. "We're playing hard, closing out, we're trying to be the aggressor, but aggressive doesn't mean you can put your hands on the offensive opponent. We want to make the (opposing) team play quicker than they want, get them out of some of their offensive sets, but that doesn't mean putting your hands on them."
Rice started both halves with Miller, James Beatty, Mike Coburn, Jonathan Mitchell and freshman Gilvydas Biruta. Mitchell finished with 16 points and Birutas added 10 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Mike Poole and sophomore Austin Johnson came off the bench to score 11 and 10 points, respectively.
"There's a lot of flexibility still there," Rice said of the starting five. "I thought to myself yesterday, I need somebody who's actually played college basketball coming off the bench and that's why I put Gil (in the starting five). Gil's been rebounding better than Austin, Austin scores better than Gil."
The Scarlet Knights and Rice have plenty to work on before the regular season gets underway Nov. 12 against Princeton at Jadwin Gym. After all, McGill isn't a Big East team or even the preseason favorite to win the Ivy League.
" Princeton is a veteran team that's been running the same system for four years now," Rice said. "We just have to play with more of a purpose and improve every single day."
MORE GRAINS OF RICE:
"I thought energy was good, effort was good. When you have 12, 13 full days of practice you're gonna get some sloppiness, some scratching your head and saying what was that play. But for the most part I was looking for what were working on was a carry over and I saw some carry over and we just have to tweak it and make it a little bit better."
"They're gonna scramble every game for 31 games. They have to get used to not relaxing. They have to stay locked in."
"Our defense isn't instinctive yet. We'll try, we'll work on it."
"There was an unselfishness, there was willingness to make a play for a teammate and that's what we harp on everyday."
"It's not good enough just to have energy. Unfortunately, when you're undermanned or you don't have depth you got to play with a purpose too."
"They had an edge to their energy."
"The whole team has to finish better. We have to grab rebounds and loose balls. They tried, but are they Big East ready? We all know that answer."
"Mike Poole got up 10 shots in 17 minutes. That's aggressive, I guess, huh?"