The moment was so bad, ESPNU wouldn't show the replay again. Eli Carter went up, and then came down, clearly fouled and clearly in pain. He would not return. For the rest of the season.
Carter is Rutgers' most electric scorer, and--at times--their most frustrating player on the team. He could light up and opponent on any given day, but when he went cold (as he did during Rutgers Big East losing streak), he could just as well shoot them out of games.
When Eli first went down, Mike Rice put the onus on Myles Mack, and he stepped up scoring 28 against DePaul and 24 against Villanova. However, both games were losses.
After a week off, Rutgers' offensive persona began to change. It wasn't about putting the ball in one player's hands and letting him freelance. It became about ball sharing and great shots. Kadeem Jack started to get more touches, showing off intimidating dunks and a mid range jumper. Austin Johnson touched the ball more as well. Jerome Seagears found himself open at the 3 point line. Rutgers assist to turnover rate may not have improved much, but the offense started to pass the eye test.
Rutgers closed out the season with 2 wins against Seton Hall (SWEEP!) and then DePaul before playing a gritty second half against DePaul. One began to wonder if, with more time, the team would have gelled even more and begun to turn the corner.
Which begs the question, was Eli Carter's injury a blessing in disguise?
Look at it this way: Myles Mack and company saw what they could do when they made smart passes and found open shots. A muscle memory started to set in, and while the wins weren't there, they were in most games (especially a barn burner against Marquette). What appeared to be missing was a fearless scorer, i.e. Eli.
And imagine what Eli had to see. He was forced to sit the bench and watch practices, what games, watch the offense flow. And he had to be able to see how, in that offense, he could help. He was the player who could get to the hoop and draw contact with the most regularity, but he had to understand that Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears would be there for the open 3 when Carter was ultimately triple teamed. Kadeem Jack could be trusted with the ball.
It wasn't all about Eli.
And that's the key for next year. It can't be all about Eli Carter. It has to be about Rutgers. It has to be a team game where everyone trusts each other. There are going to be weapons next year. Seagears, Carter, Mack, Jack, and hopefully a healthy Wally Judge can all score.
The two recruited JUCOs, Craig Brown and Chris Griffin are unknowns, but have potential.
But Eli is going to have to fit in. He's going to get his points. But he needs to get his assists too. He needs to be a part of the flow.
Did the injury show him that?
We will find out next November. And Mike Rice better hope he does, his job likely relies on it.