Jeremy Hazell throws down a slam against Rutgers at the RAC. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
The Rutgers student section left the RAC at record pace as the Seton Hall lead stretched to 9 following two Herb Pope free throws with :26 seconds to play in the game. The few Seton Hall faithful that made the short trip to Piscataway were on their feet, modestly applauding the gutsy, workman-like effort put on by their beloved Pirates. It was a game that this program, from top to bottom, needed badly, real badly. Disregard the people who claim a close win over a bottom-tier Big East team is something to brag about. Disregard the people who downplay this rivalry and the recent success (or lack-thereof) of these two programs. The players, coaches, and certainly the students of both schools certainly don't take this rivalry lightly.
- The point guard play for the Pirates was brilliant, phenomenal, fantastic - you name it. Jordan Theodore backed up his claim that Seton Hall was not going to lose, in impressive fashion. The junior had 18PTS(7-9 shooting)/6AST/4REB. What makes that stat line even more impressive is the fact that Theodore turned the ball over a total of... ZERO times. His habit of taking (and missing) tough shots while turning the rock over a lot has really hurt the offensive play of the Pirates at times. Last night, Jordan made nearly all of those tough shots (one miss was a half court shot that rimmed out, the other a 3PT attempt from "Jimmer" range as the shot clock expired) and failed to turn it over. Bravo Jordan.
Lets not forget about Eniel Polynice. The senior started in place of Theodore so that he could get a feel for the game. Sort of like in baseball when someone watches the opposing pitcher while on deck. Not only did Polynice give Theodore a few pitches to look at, he contributed in significant ways (7PTS/5AST/4REB/3TO). Most surprisingly, the transfer from Ole Miss knocked down a three and subsequently saluted the crowd a la Jordan Theodore against Syracuse. Polynice broke down the defense very well and went strong to the hoop all night. His passing ability was encapsulated on the fast break that gave Jeremy Hazell his 2000th point. Due to the departureof Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson, it looks like Polynice will be playing a lot more big minutes, since he is the only non-walkon guard off the bench.
- The hustle and desire showed by the Pirates was certainly commendable. Herb Pope diving on the court, Jeremy Hazell diving for loose balls with his once fractured wrist and the ability to hang on to a lead similar to the one the Pirates had over Connecticut were the most noticeable things. Kevin Willard doesn't have a Bobby Gonzalez or Mike Rice way of preaching hustle, but his motivation tactics certainly paid dividends last night.
- Kevin Willard has been out-coached his fair share this season, but last night, it was all Willard. Beginning with his decision to start Polynice over Theodore, Willard looked in control. The casual fan may have noticed by now that Willard has a sometimes controversial method of using his timeouts. Many Rutgers students were vocal about the timeouts and how it broke the momentum. Lets break down how he used his four timeouts (he didn't use the fifth) last night:
1st TO (1:56 to play in first half): After a Polynice layup and mini Seton Hall run (7-2) that stretched the lead to 8, (largest at that point) Willard called a timeout. Bobby Gonzalez would have wanted to ride the momentum, but we all know Willard is more calm. Gilvydas grabbed an offensive board and scored coming out of the timeout (technically successful?). SHU was outscored 4-3 after the timeout until the end of the half.
2nd TO (1:50 into second half): Rutgers started the second half with a quick 4-0 run, and Willard took a textbook "stop the momentum" timeout. Rutgers continued to add on to their run by scoring 4 more points, but Seton Hall evened it out by scoring 4 points (4-4 after TO) before the next media timeout.
3rd TO (6:14 left in second half): After a Jordan Theodore made free throw, Willard took a timeout. Resulted in a defensive stop, Jordan Theodore bucket and then a Jonathan Mitchell three pointer before the next media timeout.
4th TO (1:05 left in second half): Immediately after Jonathan Mitchell drained a trey to cut the Pirate lead to 4, Willard called his fourth timeout. It led to this sequence of events. Check out Pete Dill doing the Aaron Rodgers championship belt gesture on the bench.
Beyond the starting lineup and usage of timeouts, Willard also pushed the right buttons with how Jordan Theodore and Eniel Polynice would break down the Rutgers defense that stifled the Pirates at the Prudential Center. A job well done, Coach.
For the Bad and the Ugly, read after the jump.
-The RAC is BAC. No, I'm not referring to the Blood Alcohol Content of the Rutgers students, although I did count 3 kids who were basically passed out. I'm referring to the atmosphere. Say what you want about the terrible PA system (we'll get to that), the lack of a video screen and the general appearance of the place - the RAC was rocking last night. The Seton Hall crowd at the Prudential Center frequently resembles church mice - the Rutgers crowd was anything but that. The student section was a third full an hour before tip, foreshadowing the second sellout of the season at the RAC. So why is this bad for Seton Hall fans? Because I don't see this trend being reversed anytime soon. Actually, I think the process will only accelerate with the type of players Mike Rice is bringing in. The RAC is going to be as scary as it was 6-8 years ago, in fact, it might be there already.
-The free throw shooting was pretty shaky last night (12-20, 60%). Prior to Seton Hall making 5 of their last 6 free throws (did not allow Rutgers back into the game in the dying seconds), they were 7-14 from the line. Herb Pope and Eniel Polynice did take 7 of those free throws, but still, those points are crucial in close games, especially on the road. Luckily, the below average night at the line did not cost the Pirates a W - they made their shots when they needed them the most.
- The halftime show was awful... so bad that I'm not even really sure to say about it. It was some type of band that included 6 bongo drum (?) players and a keyboard player. They played pop songs such as Stereo Love and absolutely butchered every single one. Not only did it sound like crap, but the PA system, or whatever they used, was playing the music so loud that nearly every note, especially the higher pitches, sounded like nails against a chalkboard. Probably the worst thing I've ever seen/heard as half time entertainment. One of the drum players had a decent solo, but the sound was so bad it was hard to hear him clearly. Just ugly.
- The showing by Seton Hall fans was pretty pathetic. Sure they were a 10-14 team coming off a disappointing home loss, but come on, it's Rutgers. I've been to 3 or 4 Seton Hall games at the RAC and this one had the least Seton Hall fans at it, by far. This can be partially blamed on the Athletic Department since they didn't run the usual student bus(es) to the game, but there weren't very many fans outside of the usual Seton Hall sections in the nosebleeds. Very disappointing.
Look for JP's Preview of Villanova sometime tomorrow.