PRINCETON, N.J. — After a poor performance in the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s season-opening loss, head coach Mike Rice said he wanted to send a message.
He did so by sitting three of the starters for the following game, one of which was sophomore guard Eli Carter.
Judging by Carter’s performance Friday in the Scarlet Knights’ 58-52 win at Princeton, the team received the message.
“[Carter is] the fuel in the motor, so to speak,” Rice said. “When he comes in, certainly he helps us.”
Carter netted a season-high 22 points off the bench — his sixth-career 20-point game — on 6-for-9 shooting and sank four of his six 3-point attempts, tying his career high from downtown.
He made all six of his free throws, led the Knights (2-1) in scoring for the 17th time in his career and helped lift Rice to his first win against Princeton (1-2) with Rutgers.
But not to be outdone, sophomore point guard Myles Mack tallied 16 points of his own to go along with three rebounds and two assists.
“We’re both scorers, so we’re going to shoot regardless [of how the game goes],” Mack said. “Our shots were falling tonight, and it was great for us. We kept it going from the first half to the second half and came out with the win.”
Carter and Mack filled in that role against the Tigers and helped produce team season-highs in nearly every statistical category, including 3-pointers made (seven), 3-point shooting percentage (53.8) and free throw percentage (70.8).
Collectively, Rutgers guards sank 13 of the team’s 17 field goals and scored 44 of the Knights’ 58 points.
But as was the case in the team’s win Nov. 12 against Sacred Heart, Rice believes the play at the defensive end played as crucial of a role as any in the victory.
As with the Pioneers, the Tigers’ offense runs through one player. Princeton relies on senior forward Ian Hummer, who is on pace to finish second on the school’s all-time scoring list.
But that pace took a hit Friday, courtesy of the Knights’ defensive effort.
“We’re going to face those type of dynamic players game-in and game-out in our conference,” Rice said. “Following the formula of kind of slowing him down, it’s big.”
In the first half, it looked like Hummer was going to complete a three-peat in dominating Rutgers under Rice.
He scored 17 points two years ago and followed that up the next season with 21 points and eight rebounds, both of which resulted in Princeton wins.
He scored nine points in the first half this time around, but the midway break served as the virtual end of his production.
Much of that, Hummer believes, is courtesy of the zone defense Rutgers employed against him.
“I think Rutgers really prides itself on being more athletic than a lot of teams,” he said. “I think we are just as athletic, but if we’re not making shots from the offense, why play us man?”
Because of the zone defense, several different players saw time defending the 6-foot-7 Hummer, from 5-foot-9 Mack to 6-foot-9 junior forward Wally Judge.
The combination of defenders limited Hummer to only one point in the second half. He also picked up three fouls, earning himself a seat on the bench for most of the second half.
“We had to crowd him. We doubled him in the post sometimes,” Mack said. “He just tried to kick the ball [out]. He wasn’t really trying to score in the second half.”
Without their top scorer adding his usual contribution, the Tigers struggled to score consistently, ending the game with a 31.9 field goal percentage.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @JGregoryTargum.