PISCATAWAY — After coaching Rutgers to a 3-0 men’s basketball record while replacing Mike Rice, associate head coach David Cox gave all the credit to the Scarlet Knight players.
“I’m sure they’re excited about Coach Rice coming back,” said Cox after Dane Miller’s 18 points led Rutgers to a 68-56 win over Rider on Friday. “But don’t take anything away from the last two weeks and the growth they made as a team. I’m not talking about coaches. But as a group, that team came together and showed you what they could do.”
Rice was suspended without pay and fined $50,000 for violating athletic department policy. He will return to practice today. In his absence Cox guided Rutgers to wins over UAB, Howard and Rider.
“It was different styles of coaching, but we’re going to play together regardless,” said Kadeem Jack, who had 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting. “Now it’s just back to business again. This brought us real close as a team, and we realize we can do a lot of special things with this group.”
Eli Carter scored all 15 of his points in the second half for Rutgers, which has won nine of its last 10 and takes a 9-2 record into its Big East opener at Syracuse.
“We’re happy to have Coach Rice coming back, but we tuned in and listened to everything Cox had to tell us and tried to do everything he demanded of us,” said Wally Judge, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “Cox and Rice have been together for a long time. They pretty much know each other’s system. It’s pretty much like replacing Rice with Rice.”
Rider (6-7), which has lost three straight, got 20 points from Daniel Stewart and 14 from Anthony Myles. The Broncs dropped to 0-5 in games when they have not scored at least 60 points.
Holding a 52-49 lead, Rutgers scored eight straight to take control with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left.
Carter started the run with a driving layup and two foul shots after a technical was called on Rider coach Kevin Baggett. Jerome Seagears followed with a baseline drive and Miller’s bucket capped the run and put Rutgers up 60-49.
Baggett got his technical for arguing a non-call on a Broncs shot.
“No, it’s not,” he said when asked if getting the technical was a mistake. “I thought I saw something the ref didn’t see and he called a technical on me.”
Neither team found an offensive rhythm in the first half, in which neither team led by more than four points. There were five lead changes, the last during a 5-0 run that gave Rutgers a 24-21 halftime lead.
Myles Mack and Carter, Rutgers’ leading scorers who averaged a combined 33 points entering the game, had one point between them in the half. Rider, which was held to a season-low 21 points in the first half for the third time, shot 26.1 percent (6 of 23).
Rider, which finished at 30.4 percent overall (14-of-46), kept it close for most of the second half but could never tie it. The Broncs pulled within 34-33 and 36-35 and kept Rutgers’ lead within single digits until its late run.
Judge said Rutgers’ first-half woes were just “part of college basketball.”
“During these winter breaks nobody’s on campus,” he said. “The crowd’s not really into it, you were just home for Christmas. It takes a little (time) to get started but I’m proud of the team, we brought it together.”
Cox finished his time as head coach appreciative of the opportunity.
“They have, for whatever reason, given me their trust the last two weeks and allowed me to be comfortable and grow into this position as a coach and for them to continue to grow,” he said. “With that being said, I’m looking forward to the big guy coming back as we continue to try and make this climb.”