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Post Game Thoughts: Rutgers 70, Seton Hall 76 as Pope Sends BIG East Message

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Just five victories stand between the Seton Hall Pirates and a likely at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.  The final 3 regulation season games are very manageable, Marquette at home and then to Rutgers and Providence on the road. Should the Pirates win their remaining three regular season contests, they'll head to the BET at 10-8.  Notch two more victories and Seton Hall will bring a 12-9 resume to the committee on selection sunday.  Twelve victories in the Big East will be hard to turn away, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, Seton Hall is currently (16-10, 7-8), good for an eigth place tie with Connecticut.  

-Not in Pope's house.  With the Pirates up by eight and 0.1 seconds remaining, Pope denied an easy 2 point Rutgers dunk by committing a hard foul that the zebras deemed intentional.  Rutgers was able to go to the line and score 2 meaningless points from free throws, but the damage was done and the message was sent.  This is the New Jersey state rivalry, this is BIG EAST competition.  With just 3 games remaining after tonight's victory, Pope was intent on sending a message not only to his teammates, but also to opposing teams (Marq, RU, PC) who will surely watch tonight's game film.  

His teammates who allowed an 18 point lead to be erased with sloppy second half play could learn a thing from Pope's refusal to stop playing until the final whistle.  Opposing teams will watch film and realize nothing comes easy in BE play.  If you're going to attempt to score inside, you'd better be ready to bang. As SNY suggested prior to tip-off, the tape of Rutgers/Seton Hall is often shown to players that the locals are recruiting, don't think for a minute that they won't take note of who is playing the hardest.  It really doesn't matter who sees the film, the message has been sent. No easy points in BIG EAST PLAY. Not when the season is on the line, not in a win-or-go-home situation, not against your intrastate rival. Job well done, Pope, Gonzo Ball to Herb for the final 0.1 seconds alone.  

-The Pirates surrendered an 18 point first half lead as the Scarlet Knights would pull within 4 with 25 seconds to play. The first half was one of the most impressive 20 minutes of BE play we've seen from the blue and white.  Impressive defense as they owned the turnover battle 12-to-1 and they displayed unselfishness offensively as they continually made the extra pass.  In the second half, Rutgers outplayed Seton Hall considerably, on offense, they outscored the Pirates 41-32, won the rebounding battle 23-to-19 and committed one less turnover than the Pirates.  

The writing is on the wall, and again, the Pirates have their work cut out for them.  Win, and go on.  Lose, and go home.  It really is as simple as that.  Should they falter at home against Marquette, the Pirates will be destined for the NIT.  If they're able to pull off the victory, they'll be able to add one more victory to their RPI 50 record and hit the road, needing two wins away from home in order to rejoin the bubble conversation.  All three games are absolutely winnable when the Pirates are playing their best basketball.  We saw it early tonight, as they jumped out to a 28-to-10 lead in the first half, but again, The Hall lacked killer instinct as RU was able to hang around until the final 20 seconds.  Without killer instinct on the road, the outcome will certainly be different than it was tonight.  Hopefully, Herb Pope's hard foul at the end of the game sent a message to his teammates. The instinct starts now.  

-Jeremy Hazell looked to be shooting more comfortably with his taped fingers and finished with 25PTS on 9-of-22 and 5-of-14 3PT shooting. The 3PT shooting leaves a bit to be desired with too many attempts, but Hazell hit many big shots throughout the game, including 2 3PT shots that helped build the 28-10 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game.  Hazell made a particularly bad decision with 3:37 left in the game as the Pirates led by 9 points.  Just 6 seconds ran off the shot clock before Hazell attempted a quick, contested 20 foot jumper at a moment in the game where the Pirates should have been milking the clock.  Instead, Jeremy missed the difficult shot and Rutgers responded with a Mike Rosario 3PT shot, cutting the Pirates lead to just 6 points with 3:30 to play.  Ultimately, the decision wasn't his smartest in a Pirates' uniform, however it didn't cost them the game.  In the end, Jeremy Hazell's 25PTS went a long way towards securing Seton Hall's six point victory.  

-John Garcia.  It wasn't flashy, but he contributed tonight.  The senior added 4PTS/3REB(3OFF) on 2-of-2 from the floor in 11 minutes of action.  

-Another odd game for Keon Lawrence.  I sound like a broken record, but yes, his jump shot is still off.  0-for-4 on the night, however he finished with 5REB/5AST/0TO in 20 minutes of play.  

-Welcome back Eugene Harvey.  He played intelligently tonight, finishing with 10PTS/4AST/3REB/2STL/BLK/2TO on 4-of-6 FG shooting. Harvey's legs looked fresh early in the game, clearly a result of the two games he received off against St. John's and West Virginia.   As I've said before Eugenius is dangerous in the open floor, the best finishing PG on the roster and despite his increase in turnovers early in the season, he's again making good decisions on the break.  

-JRob had his first off-game in his last five tonight, shooting just 4-of-10, as he struggled to finish around the rim throughout the majority of the game.  He did wind up with 10PTS/4REB/STL/BLK, but it wasn't his best game, considering the performances he's put forth over the last two weeks.  

-Herb Pope continues to struggle on the offensive end, shooting just 3-of-11 tonight.  He recorded 6PTS/12REB, as he once again dominated the opposition rebounding the ball.  Since he's been struggling, he's been consistent in two things, poor FG shooting and dominating the glass. If his teammates can continue to step up and score the ball, it's a trade off I would accept for the leading rebounder in the BIG EAST. 

-Jordan Theodore hit his first five shots to start the game, however, he wouldn't make a single bucket in the 2nd half. Still, JT put forth one of his more impressive performances of the season, finishing with 12PTS/6AST/3REB/STL on 5-of-8 shooting in 30 minutes.  

-Mike Rosario led the Scarlet Knights with 17PTS despite shooting just 7-of-20 from the floor.  Mitchell, Ndiaye and Miller combined for 36REBS.  Mitchell and Ndiaye both recorded double-doubles, while Miller was one rebound shy, as the 3 time BE rookie of the week finished with 16PTS/9REB/5BLK/2AST.  Nifty line for the freshman, except he also added 6TOs.  

-Seton Hall posted higher FG and 3PT percentages than Rutgers, while Rutgers beat the Pirates in the REB/BLK categories.   The Pirates also defeated the Scarlet Knights in the AST/STL/TO categories.  

Much more to come in tomorrow's day after post.