Hall sitting on the tournament bubble as Rutgers visits ‘The Rock’ Saturday
Coming off a resume-building win against No. 8 Georgetown, the Pirates stay home to face rival Rutgers Saturday night, trying to improve the team’s chances for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2005-06 season.
“Every game is a big game for us right now,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “What makes it tough is that it’s senior night, and it’s hard to play on senior night because your seniors are more jacked up, and everyone just wants to do so well.”
The Hall currently has a record of 19-9 and 8-8 in the Big East, putting them on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Tuesday’s win against the Hoyas moved the Pirates from one of the last four teams in the tournament to a more secure position in the field of 68, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
“I’ve been in this position before, on the bubble,” senior Jordan Theodore said. “I want to dance so bad, and I can feel it’s so close.”
Before they can dance, the Pirates still have two regular season games, as well as the Big East Tournament, before Selection Sunday, starting with the senior night matchup against Rutgers. Along with helping to secure a ticket to the big dance, a win over the Scarlet Knights would also give the Pirates their first 20-win season since 2003-04.
With everything surrounding the program going into senior night, Theodore, the lone four-year member of the basketball team, knows there will be a lot of mixed emotions.
“Coming in Saturday on senior night there will be a lot of emotion,” Theodore said. “But at the same time, it’s Rutgers, and a rivalry game.”
Saturday’s game will be the second meeting between the Pirates and Scarlet Knights this year, with the Hall winning the first game 59-54 at the RAC. The win snapped their season long six-game losing streak.
Senior Herb Pope earned his 12th double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds in the win, but he was surrounded by some controversy when he appeared to head-butt Rutgers’ freshman Eli Carter. Carter shoved Pope back, resulting in both players picking up a technical foul along with freshman Brandon Mobley, with 3:26 remaining and the Hall up 48-44.
Rutgers seemed to have gained momentum from the altercation, going on a 6-0 run after the technical free throws, but a three from Pope gave the Pirates the lead for good.
The Scarlet Knights have one of the worst offenses in the Big East. They only average 65.7 points per game, which puts them 15th in the conference, with Carter leading the team with 13.6 points a game. They also have the ninth-ranked defense, allowing 64.7 points per game while holding opponents to 41.2 percent shooting, but Willard still sees a big challenge.
“Mike (Rice) and Rutgers are probably one of the toughest defensive teams that you can play,” Willard said. “So, we are going to have to be just as focused, and execute just as well.”
The Hall comes in ranked 11th in the Big East in scoring average and percentage at 68.9 points per game and 43.6 percent respectively, but also enter as the conference’s top 3-point shooting team at 36.4 percent.
“We are very close, and we are hungry,” Mobley said. “I don’t think other teams realize how hungry we are. We are just going to focus on our game plan, and send our seniors out with a bang.”
The game against Rutgers is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
Stephen Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.