Smack dab in the middle of a 5-game losing streak, Seton Hall had every motivation to turn things around as they took on their equally inept rival, Rutgers. Instead, Pirate fans were treated with a performance that fit this season’s mold as Rutgers snapped a 5-game home court losing streak to Seton Hall by winning 57-55 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway.
Seton Hall came out of the gates shooting an ice cold 1-for-12 from the field, quickly giving Rutgers an 8-0 start. Aided by two quick three pointers from Brandon Mobley, who played major minutes in the first half despite an ailing shoulder, Seton Hall clawed their way back into the game and traded baskets for the majority of the first half. Rutgers handicapped themselves when leading scorer Eli Carter and impact forward Wally Judge both picked up two personal fouls 3:11 and 6:49 into the first half, respectively.
Despite a scoreless Aaron Cosby, who tallied a career high 25-points against UConn, the Scarlet Knights held a narrow 5 point lead at the half. Seton Hall benefited from Kevin Willard opting to play Gene Teague for shorter shifts, as Tractor Trailer Teague looked like he had a fresh tank in him for long stretches of play. “I think 29 [minutes] is a good number for him, the way hes got to battle. These guys have to look for him early in transition. That’s the one thing I’m really starting to see, we’ve almost stopped fast breaking – we haven’t been able to get up and down at all," dissected Willard. The Seton Hall head coach spelled Teague with freshman Kevin Johnson, who displayed flashes of solid play in his new-found backup center role. After acknowledging the limits to Johnson's current ability, Willard complimented his recent play, "as a young big guy, hes doing well."
Seton Hall was powered out of the locker room by 9 points between Fuquan Edwin and Gene Teague over the first 5:26 but scored just 3 points over the next 8:03 in the half, which is par for this season’s course. "There are times when we look really good" said Kevin Willard, "then there are other times when we don’t really know what’s going on. I think that’s where our offensive struggles are coming from."
Predictably, I noted on Twitter that Seton Hall would make a late run that would come up short when they were down by 13 with 9:27 to play. Due to a Rutgers field goal drought that spanned the last 9:27 of the game, Seton Hall came roaring back with the help of several treys and poor late game execution from the Scarlet Knights.
Leading 55-52 with 0:15 to play, Eli Carter opted for a lay-up attempt that missed after breaking Seton Hall’s press. However, the Pirates turned the ball over in the open court immediately, leading to Mike Poole hitting 1-of-2 free throws after a quick foul. Fuquan Edwin then made a three that cut the deficit to 1 with 0:05 left, setting up a pair of Eli Carter free throws that he split. However, Edwin’s three-quarters court heave hit the top of the Rutgers’ backboard as time expired, completing yet another Seton Hall comeback that came up short.
Even though the final scoreboard indicates a close game, the value of tonight's performance is in the eye of the beholder. Seton Hall's late-game surges that follow a scoring drought have become routine and ultimately say a lot about the consistency of this team. "We're playing a little hesitant because were not sure of what were supposed to be doing [on offense]," explained Willard. "It's tough right now, it's frustrating. Its' really disappointing the way this season has gone. We are what we are, we’re kind of a mishap team -- no continuity right now."