Well, tonight was the final Big East Conference intrastate rivalry game between Rutgers and Seton Hall. In front of roughly 8,000 fans, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers beat our Seton Hall Pirates by a score of 56 - 51. The two members of the turnpike-tussle managed to go just 8 - 28 in conference play this year (sub 30% winning percentage), but as the players and coaches have said ad nauseam, you throw the records out (sweet mother of mercy, thank God) and play for a championship (of sorts) when Jersey pride is on the line. For fans of both teams, this season has been just about as pleasurable as taking a bath with a rusty toaster, but for Seton Hall... well, there is just not enough Kettle One vodka in NYC for me tonight.
In the past 97 years, Rutgers and Seton Hall have met a total of 64 times with the Pirates walking away victorious in 35 of those games. Seton Hall dominated Rutgers in Big East regular-season play, winning 20 of 33 conference games played. It's fitting that today was not only the final day of this long time conference rivalry, it was also the official split of the Big East as we once knew it. The conference, as it stands today, will be split next year into the (new) Big East with the Catholic 7 plus Butler, Xavier and Creighton, while the America 12 (name not official, yet), will feature the remaining Big East hold-overs plus a hodgepodge of schools from every corner of the nation.
But I digress; tonight was Senior Night. The program said goodbye to its lone senior, Kyle Smyth (plus walk-on, Connor Laverty) who by all accounts, gave everything he had night in and night out while representing our University with class. He showed glimpses of outstanding shooting ability, and also contributed significantly more minuets than Kevin Willard may have normally asked of him due to the unforeseen onslaught of injuries to key players. I'm sure I speak for the entire Seton Hall community when I say we wish Kyle well in his future endeavors.
Tonight Aaron Cosby paced the Pirates with 13 points and four assists while Eugene Teague had himself another impressive game in the paint, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight boards before fouling out with roughly 2 1/2 minutes left on the clock. In addition to fouling out however, Teague committed five costly turnovers. Turnovers were once again a problem, as the Pirates tallied 19 (seventeen of which were committed by Cosby, Teague, Edwin and Oliver), and allowed Rutgers to steal the ball 13 times. This was not a pretty game.
Seton Hall again had a difficult time getting to the free-throw stripe, and when they did, they made just 3 (3 of 8). Conversely, Rutgers made 13 of 18, scoring roughly 25% of their points at the charity stripe.
Both Rutgers and Seton Hall fans will spend a good portion of this summer licking their wounds. In fact, I'm pretty sure I spent 7 years covering this season. Lots of questions will be posed to both teams this off-season including but certainly not limited to:
Will Aquille Carr ever put on an (extra medium) Seton Hall jersey?
Will Rutgers' AD Tim Pernetti make good on firing Mike Rice if Rutgers doesn't make the post season?
Will Seton Hall field a healthy team next year, given 4 key returners will or have had surgery?
Will Rutgers' Wally Judge rebound from a largely disappointing year, especially after all that hype?
Will Seton Hall find demonstrable on-the-court leadership now that they are no longer a young team?
Sadly I left my crystal ball on my other flying carpet, so I'm unable to answer those questions; but, I do know that next year is a very, very critical year for both Kevin Willard and Mike Rice. Both fan bases are up to their biceps in frustration, and like their predecessors saw, the fourth year of coaches tenure will prove critically important to the trajectory of their careers, as well as the overall direction of their respective programs.
Next up, Seton Hall will play South Florida at 7pm this Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament. Until then, Hazard Zet Forward, my friends.