Working the crowd further into a frenzy was the return of former RU star Mike Rosario, who transferred to Florida two years ago when Rutgers Basketball wasn’t in nearly as good a place. Limited by a back injury, Rosario scored five points in 14 minutes and was roundly booed every time he touched the ball. Harboring no ill will, a game Rosario entered the Rutgers locker room after the game to congratulate his former mates.
But Rutgers’ freshman-laden group reduced the Rosario saga to a mere subplot. Besides Carter, Myles Mack – who won the de facto high school national title with Jersey City’s St. Anthony at the RAC back in the spring – sank a trio of key three-pointers. Seagears attacked the basket relentlessly en route to 13 points.
And though Derrick Randall scored just four points, he played a key role in slowing down Florida big man Patric Young. The Rutgers defense also frustrated elite freshman guard Brad Beal, who scored 15 points but shot 1-for-6 on threes and committed seven turnovers.
“Our team needs to go through (tough losses) to reach our full potential, as difficult as that may be,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s bigger for me than just this game, it’s about us getting better.”
In a close loss to LSU about a month ago, Carter and Seagears each passed on makeable shots that would have given Rutgers the lead. As Rice tries to build up a Rutgers program that hasn’t been a factor nationally in quite some time, seeing his touted freshman class show great amounts of poise and courage against a team like Florida gave him an obvious measure of pride.
“The No. 10 ranked team came in our building, and the last two minutes of that game, our freshmen’s faces lit up,” Rice said. “I said (to the team), ‘This is what happens when you believe, when you don’t think the impossible is impossible.’ And this is what happens when young men are determined to follow the formula and play for one another.”
Which leads back to the self-effacing Carter, who was the seventh and final member of Rutgers’ decorated freshman class. In fact, Carter committed only after recruit Mike Taylor decided to go to prep school for a year and junior college transfer Tyree Graham ruptured his Achilles.
Perhaps the same even keel Carter showed after a magnificent individual performance in a sensational team victory lends itself to the preternatural poise he demonstrated on the court, even as the pressure and noise level intensified. As such, despite seemingly being a relative afterthought, Carter appears nonetheless to have the potential in both mentality and ability to be the go-to scorer an identity-starved Rutgers has craved since Rosario left.
“This is why I came here, to change things around,” Carter said. “This is just the beginning.
“If we keep playing the way we’re playing and practicing every day, there’s no telling who we can beat.”
And perhaps that’s the key for Eli Carter – not so much acting like you’ve done it before, but acting like you’re going to do it again.
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