After Rutgers stunned No. 10 Florida, 85-83, in double overtime on Thursday night, nobody could stop talking about the brilliant performance by freshman Eli Carter.
Everyone except, that is, for Eli Carter.
“I had no doubt who I was giving the ball to and what play it was going to be,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said of Carter. “We really didn’t have that last year. I’ve got somebody that I’m confident is going to make something positive for us. That’s nice to have.”
Carter’s peers were equally effusive in their praise. Fellow freshman guard Jerome Seagears, obviously a student of basketball, animatedly compared Carter’s brilliant performance to Bernard King’s 60-point Christmas Day game, which occurred eight years before Seagears was born. Junior forward Dane Miller said of Carter: “He’s one of the best scorers I’ve seen.” Even Kyrie Irving, a friend of Carter’s, chimed in on Twitter.
But in terms of persona, Carter is far more Derrick Rose than Gary Payton. While his teammates excitedly watched highlights on ESPN in the locker room, a reserved Carter gave the impression it was nothing special, instead of merely the best non-conference victory for Rutgers in over 20 years.
To watch Carter figuratively shrug off his performance after the game, you’d never know it was the same guy who scored every which way en route to 31 points against Florida’s more heralded and experienced backcourt.
Asked about the zone he was in, Carter deadpanned, “I just try to stay calm. When the ball’s in my hand, if there’s an open shot, I take it.”
Arguably the biggest singular shot of the game was Carter’s three-pointer with 18 seconds left to tie the game and send it to double overtime. Carter’s take?
“Coach called the play for me, I came off the screen. They kind of flat hedged, stayed back off me a little bit, so I took the open shot.”
Belying Carter’s stoicism was the wonderfully mad atmosphere at the 8,000-seat Louis Brown Athletic Center, a throwback gem. At what is affectionately known as the RAC, the band provides the only soundtrack, the scoreboard is digital, the fans are right on top of the court and the noise level is simply deafening when elite teams like Florida come to visit. (Seagears: “The floor was shaking, it was so crazy. I thought Godzilla was on the way.”)