It all seemed so positive that night against Dixon and the Panthers. Rice, in fact, sprinted off the floor then paid homage to Dixon in postgame interviews, admitting he borrowed heavily from Dixon's diverse schemes.
Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs said it appeared the Scarlet Knights "knew all our plays" while the Panthers suffered their worst defeat ever at the Petersen Events Center.
The moment proved fleeting. Rutgers again struggled and Rice was suspended three games by the university early this season for improper conduct. The school also fined Rice $75,000 and required him to take anger management classes. He and Dixon spoke about Rice's issues before Pitt played in Piscataway in January and Dixon believes Rice understood the depth of his transgressions.
The Panthers came in ranked No. 24 and left with a 67-62 loss, the first victory for Rutgers since Rice returned from his suspension. It appeared the Scarlet Knights and their hyper-competitive coach were starting to figure it out.
Instead, Rice lost 12 of his final 14 games, and three weeks later, his tenure ended abruptly in scandal. While Dixon prepared to head to the Final Four and the annual coach's convention in Atlanta, his former assistant heads into a future forever sullied by his stunning downfall at Rutgers.
Whether Rice ever gets another chance to coach again remains uncertain. Dixon doesn't believe Rice is the monster portrayed in the videotapes that will follow him the rest of his life.
"He made some mistakes," Dixon said, "and I'll leave it at that."