PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers has yet to out-rebound an opponent in Big East play. Facing Pittsburgh tonight, which leads the nation in rebounding margin, improvement on the boards is critical in an attempt to hit .500 in the conference, said head coach Mike Rice.
“It’s everything,” Rice said, You rebound in transition defense, you’re going to have a chance because of playing some guys out of position because of [Tray Woodall] being out. if we can not give up some easy second-chance buckets and transition baskets, hopefully we’ll like that.”
Rice inserted freshman forward Derrick Randall in the starting lineup for West Virginia over junior Austin Johnson. The rebounding, Rice said, is a little better since then, but the Mountaineers and Connecticut each out-rebounded the Scarlet Knights by at least nine.
“Again, with having Derrick and his size and athleticism, it’s helping us on the boards,” Rice said. “We’re doing a better job of rebounding as a team too. I think the addition of Derrick playing more minutes and concentrating on it more [helped us improve].”
Rice returns home to Pittsburgh, where he worked for a season under Jamie Dixon with the Panthers. While an assistant under Dixon, Rice said he learned what it meant to be a head coach in the Big East.
“[It helped in] knowing the Big East, recruiting in the Big East, how to prepare, how to win in the Big East,” Rice said. “We finished tied with Georgetown as regular-season champs that year, lost to Georgetown in the Big East Championship, so that allowed me to look at it from a perspective of how you’re successful in the Big East, how hard it is to win in the Big East.”
With Pittsburgh, Rice recruited Woodall and Nasir Robinson. Before Woodall went down with an injury, he averaged 12.4 points per game in seven starts. Robinson started all 16 games for Pitt this season and is second on the team with 12.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
On the Road
Rutgers (9-7, 1-2) has yet to win a true road game this year. With the exception of a neutral-site victory against Stony Brook at Madison Square Garden, the Scarlet Knights are 0-2 in true road games against Miami and South Florida and have two losses during the Cancun Challenge.
Rutgers has not won a true road game since March 2 of last season against DePaul.
“I wouldn’t say it’s more of a challenge, we just haven’t executed the right way in the last two minutes of games,” said leading scorer Elijah Carter on road losses. “We’re trying to get better with that. We have to get better with that to pull through.”
Junior forward Dane Miller has experience winning on the road and said he embraces the road environment.
“It gives you a chance to get away from Jersey and lock in and focus on the task at hand,” Miller said. “You can focus on what you have to do to beat that team that’s at home.”
Facing Pittsburgh, Miller said he expects to get the Panthers’ best after they began conference play 0-3, including an embarrassing loss to DePaul.
“It’s the same Pitt team,” Miller said. “They’re aggressive, intense, well-coached, great defensively. They have the preseason Player of the Year in Ashton Gibbs. He’s a really good shooter. They have a lot of pieces around him that can get the job done. The losses they have, they’re just tough losses. I’m sure they can’t wait to get us at home.”
Freshmen Kadeem Jack and Malick Kone are available for action tonight. Both are slowly re-integrating themselves to live action after surgeries. Sophomore guard Austin Carroll (leg) is not expected back any time soon.