PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Nothing could shove Mike Rice’s suspension into the background like a win over a ranked opponent. In the biggest victory of the season to date, Rice left his first game back at the Louis Brown Athletic Center a 67-62 winner over No. 24 Pittsburgh.
Rice shook it up after a bad loss to Syracuse, benching leading scorer Elijah Carter in favor of Jerome Seagears, and the move paid off in a big way.
Carter was benched for a minor team rules violation, Rice said, and there will be no further punishment.
Carter’s sharpshooting graced Rutgers with a big first half lead and his scoring down the stretch kept Pittsburgh from completing a comeback.
“I never like coming off the bench, but it’s whatever,” Carter said. “… I just played my same game when I come off the bench or when I start.”
Pittsburgh cut the lead to two points, and was in the driver’s seat, until a 6-footer by Carter gave the Scarlet Knights a two-possession lead that they never relinquished.
Carter then iced the game with a pair of free throws following a technical foul.
Carter is up to 90.4 percent from the free throw line in the win, and averages 20.8 points per game four non-starts as a sophomore.
“I’m going to have to look at it more,” Rice said on bringing Carter off the bench. “He does add a scoring punch and Jerome gave us the toughness.”
Similarly to the Syracuse loss, Rutgers grabbed an early lead before surrendering an ugly run the other way. After Pittsburgh scored nine straight to start the second half, however, Rutgers clamped down.
“Today we weren’t going out without a fight,” said Seagears, who finished with seven points and six assists. “Pittsburgh, with them being [one of] the winningest teams in the last decade, you really have to grind out games.”
Rutgers (10-3, 1-1) won its first game since Rice’s return. Coaching at the RAC for the first time in 25 days, Rice now takes Rutgers on the road to face St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.