PISCATAWAY - On a night when Dane Miller scored a team-high 17 points off the bench and Kadeem Jack produced his first career double-double, Rutgers still could not make enough winning plays, falling 76-72 to Providence at the RAC.
The loss was the ninth in 10 league games for the Scarlet Knights (13-13, 4-11) and cemented their place in the play-in round on opening night of the Big East Tournament on Tuesday.
"At home, you can't let the opponent take your passion, your energy, your edge, and they did it tonight to us," Rice said.
A common refrain all season reared its ugly head on multiple occasions, as the Scarlet Knights showed flashes but were unable to get the one stop, the one rebound, the one basket that could've put them over the top.
Mike Poole's three-pointer at the 7:25 mark trimmed the lead to one, but lax zone defense allowed Providence's LaDontae Henton to put his team back in control with an and-1 on the ensuing possession. Then with the margin at 64-61, consecutive leak outs by Bryce Cotton (22 points) produced uncontested fast break finishes that padded the Friars' advantage.
But most egregious of all occurred with less than a minute remaining and the score 72-69. Rutgers needed one stop to give itself a chance to tie the game, but instead Friar point guard Vincent Council drove unmolested into the paint and hit a lefty layup to effectively seal the win.
"I nipped it [the ball]. It just went in. It was a good drive by him," said Miller.
"We went small. We were going to go [switch] one through five and make them take a guarded shot," Rice explained. "Like a lot of tonight, we just couldn't get a defensive stop. They kept driving us. They didn't get an advantage because none of their screens worked because we switched everything, but again it's just the inability to keep something in front of us."
Everything went smooth for the Scarlet Knights for much of the first half, as the team rode nine points from Jack and eight from Mike Poole to a 33-25 advantage with 4:16 remaining.
From that point on, things spiraled out of control, as Providence closed the half on a 19-0 run.
"You can't play defense without communicating, and for that four-minute stretch, we were the worst communicating team in the country," said Poole.
The Scarlet Knights are off for six days before heading down to the Verizon Center on Saturday to face Georgetown at 9 p.m.
In the meantime, they will continue to search for answers.
"When you look at it at the end, that's what you ask yourself: why can't we sustain our energy or whatever's going right at that time," Poole said. "That's the question we're trying to figure out every day when we come in the gym.
"Every game we come out, we have our runs, we look like a really good team. Then something happens and we look like a really bad team. We've just got to figure it out."