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Things have officially started to take a turn for the Rutgers men’s basketball team, and not in the right way, as it fell to .500 today after losing the Garden State Hardwood Classic to Seton Hall at the Prudential Center in Newark.
The Scarlet Knights (5-5, 0-2) barely got anything going on the offensive end in this one, shooting an abysmal 31.6 percent from the field and an even worse 20.7 percent from 3. The Pirates on the other hand (7-3, 0-0) used a strong first half performance and early second half outburst to hold off a late surge from their instate rivals in the final 10 minutes of play to take back the State Trophy in a 72-66 win.
“This was a great environment today. Seton Hall was two possessions better,” said head coach Steve Pikiell after the game. “…They're a special, well coached team. Give Seton Hall the credit. We're going to keep grinding and getting better. We showed a lot of heart.”
After starting the season well at 5-1, Rutgers has been in a down spiral since Big Ten play opened up, losing back-to-back ranked conference matchups against then-No. 9 Michigan State and then-No. 22 Wisconsin, and now two consecutive nonconference losses against Fordham last week and Seton Hall this afternoon.
The strength of this rivalry was apparent, as things were chippy and physical between the two squads and led to five technical fouls being handed out over the course of the 40 minute battle.
Graduate student center Shaquille Doorson got the game started off right for the Knights by winning the tip and subsequently scoring the game’s first points off an assisted alley-oop layup from sophomore guard Geo Baker. But from there, Rutgers’ offense couldn’t really get much going and struggled to score—luckily its defense was more on point and kept things close in the early goings.
The Pirates took a 7-point lead—their largest up to that point in the game—with 6:47 to play in the half after guard Miles Powell hit two straight 3-pointers. Powell had 11 points in the first half to lead the way for Seton Hall—who took as large as an 11-point lead during the first 20 minutes of play.
Despite outrebounding the Pirates 28-20 in the half, the Knights still found themselves down by 9 at halftime in large part due to poor shooting overall. Doorson and junior forward Eugene Omoruyi led the way on the glass with eight and six boards each, respectively.
Baker had 0 points on 0-4 shooting (0-3 from 3), while three other starters had just 4 points apiece. Sophomore guard Peter Kiss—who came off the bench for the first time this season—tried keeping Rutgers in this one during the early goings by putting up 7 points, but it wasn’t enough.
Seton Hall started the second half on a 10-2 run that emulated the beginning of the game with the Knights struggling to score after scoring the initial basket to a half. The Pirates grew their lead to its largest point at 17 with 16:54 to play, but their rivals wouldn’t go away quietly.
Rutgers started scoring in bunches down the stretch—led by Baker (14 points), Omoruyi (15 points) and Kiss (16 points)—to bring the team back to down just 3 points with 3:21 left to play. Pikiell threw a fist in the air in excitement after Seton Hall had to call a timeout after the Knights started making things interesting late.
Powell proceeded to score 7 of his game high 26 points in the final three minutes of the day to help the Pirates pull away in Newark and secure bragging rights for the next year over their Scarlet foes.
In a puzzling display, Rutgers finished 6-29 from 3 on the day, seeming to rely heavily on its shooting prowess from beyond the arc despite not being a particularly good 3-point shooting team.
"It was a dog fight which is what we expected. We did a good job of getting ourselves back in the game, not holding our heads when we weren't playing to well...but I think we just need to take better shots," Baker said.
Today’s loss marks brings the Knights to four straight, their longest losing streak since falling in seven consecutive bouts in the midst of a heated conference schedule from the beginning of the 2018 spring semester till Feb. 10.
Rutgers only has two more nonconference games left this year before the bulk of the Big Ten slate begins after New Years.