After hearing it non-stop from Rutgers fans and the media about how Rutgers was in charge in the RU-SHU rivalry, the Pirates went in and did something they hadn't done since the Alabama game and they closed out a tight game. Seton Hall repeatedly quieted a sellout crowd in the process, sending the RU fans to the exits early in mass exodus fashion.
The 5 Thoughts from an impressive road win in Piscataway:
The Pirates played the best defense I've ever seen this unit play. Their energy and focus on defense was positively tremendous and it was the reason they were able to pull a victory out of their hat. They rotated immaculately with very few exceptions, kept in front of their men, and switched up their defensive looks constantly. They went from man to several variations of zone and back again, keeping Rutgers on their toes. The Pirates also shut off the paint in the second half, forcing Rutgers into jump shots from the perimeter. When Rutgers was able to score, they did so because of great ball movement, and that was made necessary by the terrific Pirates D. They forced 18 turnovers on the day and on several occasions pulled off the toughest defense to play; a man-to-man look that switched on every ball screen. Speaking of ball screens, whenever Rutgers tried to run one, the big man defending for Seton Hall hedged out high and hard, preventing James Beatty and Mike Coburn from turning the corner and getting into the paint. The two Rutgers fans beside me lamented several times that Rutgers couldn't get anything inside. Credit the Pirates' strong D for that one, gentlemen.
On all fronts, this was a superhuman defensive night for Seton Hall. It won them the game hands-down.
Jordan won the Joe Calabrese MVP Award for his efforts off the bench. 18PTS/6AST and most importantly 0 TO will do that for you. He also shot 7-of-9 from the field and was red-hot from deep in the first half to help give the Pirates a 7-point cushion at the intermission. While he did not get the start, he played with confidence and leadership. Down the stretch, the ball was in his hands with the Pirates leading by only 4 with about a minute left. Theodore, through his leadership and control of the offense, got a mismatch up top with Gil Biruta on him. Theodore took Biruta all the way to the rim and made the layup with the shot clock about to go off. It was the clinching play in the Pirates' 4th-straight win at the RAC.
While we're gushing over Theodore's performance, and rightfully so, let us not forget the contributions of Eniel Polynice, who started at the point. Polynice responded with a very glue guy-like line of 7PTS/4REB/5AST in 29 minutes. Not only that, but Polynice (along with Theodore) kept Rutgers' backcourt off the boards for the most part. A stellar effort from Polynice (he even made a THREE!), who will be critical down the stretch following the dismissals of Keon and Jamel.
Hazell led the Pirates with 19 points, and he came to play today on the defensive end. He stuck his nose into every play, holding Dane Miller scoreless while getting himself 3 STL. He scored his 2,000th point tonight, and certainly he deserves credit for that. But it was the other aspects of his game that shone tonight. He also made his FTs down the stretch (finishing 8-of-9 for the game). It sealed his perfect career at the RAC, and when you think about it, it's pretty remarkable that he was able to have a perfect 4-0 record for his career down there.
They advertised this game today to be a sellout or a near-sellout. The fans did not disappoint. The announced attendance was 8,057, and that sounds about right. Pirate fans turned out, but not in as high numbers as in previous years. The students (like me) were forced to find their own way down, since for the first time in a while there was no bus trip/deal made. The RAC was loud, raucous, full of chants (some good, some just plain dumb, like chanting at Hazell "You can't shoot"), and generally awesome. I was in the last possible row and had a great time. I wore my blue cap proudly as I stood up when the ball was in play, sat when there was a timeout, and tweeted in between. The Pirates, meanwhile, quieted the RAC on several occasions down the stretch. Great showing by the fans tonight.
This was a critical game for Seton Hall to save face against their most bitter rival. Next up is Villanova, who just had their 46-game home win streak snapped and who will be looking for a bounce-back game. The full report, as always, will be up on the Juice sometime on Monday.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I decided not to delve into Keon/Jamel. For more on that, check out Pirate Primetime this Sunday at 7 PM on 89.5 FM WSOU and wsou.net. I will be appearing as an analyst on that show. Thanks!