The inaugural Garden State Hardwood Classic ended in a no contest.
Seton Hall took an early punch from Rutgers out of the gates but countered, and countered and countered for the remainder of regulation, effectively running the Scarlet Knights out of Prudential Center and down Mulberry Street in an 81-54 drubbing. Isaiah Whitehead set a new career-high with a Joe Calabrese MVP-worthy statline of 25 points (4-5 3pt), 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 0 turnovers. An active Angel Delgado added 10 points and 13 rebounds and showed shades of Hakeem Olajuwon with an impossible to defend fadeaway.
Rutgers came out firing much like they did against Clemson by hitting four of their first six shots that provided an early 8-7 lead that was short-lived. A key coming into the game, Seton Hall threw the tempo gauge to full throttle and completely took over the first half by way of a 26-6 run that answered the Scarlet Knight's early advantage and gave the Pirates a commanding lead they would never relinquish.
Leading the frantic yet controlled Seton Hall surge was none other than Seton Hall freshman Isaiah Whitehead. For the first time in his young career, Whitehead completely put his scoring touch and distribution ability together, to great effect. Six of the Pirates' first nine field goals were either scored or assisted by Whitehead, who finished the first half with a final game-like statline of 17 points (7-8 fg, 3-3 3pt) four assists and two steals.
"Isaiah [Whitehead] came out and made two really tough shots, and once he made those two shots we were off to the races," said Kevin Willard post-game.
The offense ran through an efficient Whitehead over the first several minutes as the tempo rapidly increased to Seton Hall's benefit, who boasted a 15-2 fast break advantage after 20 minutes. As it did, Rutgers found themselves struggling to cope with the Hall's high-pressure defense that forced 10-second violations and nine turnovers before the break. As Kevin Willard emphasized in a huddle, "they don't want it, keep the heat on!"
"We came out really aggressive on defense, which we wanted to do," explained Willard. "We wanted to wear down Myles [Mack]."
After Rutgers started knocking at the Rock's door with an instant 8-0 run out of the halftime locker room, Seton Hall subsequently shut and dead-bolted the door with a 9-0 push of their own. A theme throughout the game, Jaren Sina passed up an open three-pointer in transition by faking the jumper and dishing down low to Angel Delgado for a lay-up. Naturally, Sina found himself open for a triple on the Hall's next possession and knocked it down.
The counter-punch from Seton Hall looked to take the wind out of Rutgers' sails. The Pirates were able to maintain a comfortable lead that hovered in the mid-20s and was extended to 30 despite a decrease in tempo around the under-eight media timeout.
The win improves Seton Hall to 7-0 and sets them up with a major clash against ranked Wichita State in Kansas on Tuesday.