PISCATAWAY, N.J. – If anyone symbolizes the difference in play and style on Rutgers’ basketball team, it is senior guard Mike Coburn.
For three years his potential was offset by undisciplined play.
His trademark error was driving to the basket, jumping in the air and forcing a pass that too many times wound up in the hands of the wrong team.
Now, Coburn plays under control and is Rutgers’ leading scorer heading into Tuesday’s home game (7:30 p.m. tip-off) against Fairleigh Dickinson, and a big reason the Scarlet Knights are 6-2.
Coburn credits Rutgers-first-year coach Mike Rice for the change in style.
“It’s just listening to coach,” Coburn said. “It’s things like jumping in the air, and I try really to focus on that in my mind. I watch tape and it’s a losing play. I turn the ball over a lot when I do things like that. It’s trying to see things I do wrong, and try not to do it, and just be simple.”
Coburn is averaging a team-high 11.0 points per game and shooting 46.4 percent (he shot 42.3 percent last season), but the more impressive thing is his 11 turnovers in eight games. A year ago he had 69 turnovers in 32 games.
“He’s just doing the plays that we teach. He’s bought in completely,” Rice said. “His game has matured so much, and it’s always been there. His decisions are what is setting him apart. He’s playing on the floor and not jumping in the air and trying to make a decision.”
Coburn insists the mindset of not creating turnovers is the only thing to change, but he is also doing a better job of setting up teammates. After averaging 3.3 assists per game last season, Coburn has a team-leading 29 assists this season.
“Being from where coach Rice came from, he knows how to win, he knows what it’s about,” Coburn said. “Say I didn’t listen to him. That could carry over to the game, to the season, and that’s not good for the team. We can’t win that way, and I’m all about winning.
“I’m more in control and I’m not turning the ball over. I’m doing better with that. I’m trying to stay with that mindset, but everything else is still the same. It’s an aggressive mindset, playing defense hard, play for my teammates. I’ve been that way since I got here.”