The Seton Hall Pirates concluded their five-game homestand with a 77-63 defeat of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights before a raucous sell-out crowd at The Prudential Center. The two heated rivals battled it out to claim the Garden State Hardwood Classic Trophy awarded to the winner of the New Jersey battle. The Pirates moved to 9-1 on the season and continue to look like a team that can make a run in March with their deep and balanced team. The Scarlet Knights dropped to 5-5 after the setback.
Bryce Aiken led the way for Seton Hall with twenty-two points and won the Joe Calabrese MVP Award as the game’s most valuable player. Aiken continues to show the Pirate faithful his talents after an injury-plagued year one in South Orange last year. He led the balanced offense that saw five Pirates register double digits. Seton Hall also played without center Ike Obiagu who is game to game with an ankle injury.
The Pirates felt this game gave them a chance for revenge after losing by twenty points to Rutgers at the RAC in 2019. Jared Rhoden had this game circled for a long time. “I give credit to Rutgers, they’re a hell of a team, but I had a bad taste in my mouth from two years ago,” he said. “I have this picture in my phone that I never forgot about: Some kid on the bench from Rutgers that was screaming in my face when I fell on the floor.” The photo of Rutgers reserve Luke Nathan screaming at a fallen Rhoden in front of the Rutgers bench has been in his phone for almost two years and served as motivation for the talented Rhoden.
Rutgers was unable to build on the momentum of the last-second win over Number One ranked Purdue on Thursday evening. Seton Hall came out fast and used a 14-0 run in the first half to take control. Rutgers was never able to get closer than six points to the victor in the second half. The Pirates used their strong defense and rebounding to control the game. ”It’s been a long week, especially with that great win we had on Thursday,” Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell said. “We’ve just got to be better, man. We didn’t come here and play Rutgers basketball tonight, except maybe five or so minutes. They did a better job on both ends tonight, so tip of the hat to them.”
The Scarlet Knights welcomed Geo Baker back to the team after missing four straight games due to a hamstring injury and the flu. He scored 11 points in his return to action. Rutgers will look to rebound when they face Rider on Saturday. Coach Steve Pikiell was impressed with what he saw from the home team and their fans. “Much respect for Seton Hall and how they played tonight,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said, “That’s a good basketball team and their crowd was tremendous.”
Coach Kevin Willard moved past Seton Hall legend PJ Carlesimo with 213 career wins at Seton Hall and into second place in program history behind Honey Russell. The success is based on what he has built since he came to South Orange in 2010. “It’s our culture,” Willard said. “Everybody kind of knows when they come play for me, what it’s all about. We’re going to work really hard on your individual game, and the only thing I ask is that you play really hard on the court. I try to keep it really, really simple, and I think I have a great staff that we work with our guys, we work really hard to get them better, which I think our kids really appreciate.”
Seton Hall continues to tinker with their lineup in preparation for the Big East season which begins next Monday at home against St. John’s. The victory caps off an unbelievable week for Seton Hall which included back-to-back full houses in big wins over large state schools. Going into the season this week was looked at as an enormous test for the Pirates and they passed with flying colors. The Pirates return to action on Saturday battling Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels at Madison Square Garden.
Notes: Seton Hall improves its all-time record versus Rutgers to 41-31. Seton Hall students stepped up as 2,600 students packed the Rock. This from a private university with 6,000 undergraduates shows the passion the fan base has for their Pirates. It will be interesting to see if this turnout continues during the school’s winter recess as they welcome St. John’s, Villanova, and UConn to the Prudential Center in the next few weeks.