When it comes to college basketball in New Jersey, it does not get much bigger than a matchup between Seton Hall and Rutgers.
The rivalry has been defined by its big shots, hard fouls and, of course, controversy that have dominated the storylines and impacted numerous seasons over the years for both schools. From Brian Oliver’s clotheslining of Junior Etou to Andre Barrett’s game winning three-pointer in Piscataway, this rivalry has seen it all. In the second edition of the Garden State Hardwood Classic, one word defines this game: payback.
Seton Hall thrashed Rutgers in last year’s meeting by a final score of 81-54 behind 25 points from MVP Isaiah Whitehead, who shined in his first game against Rutgers. As the scene shifts to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), the Scarlet Knights will be looking to avenge the loss from last year and get their season back on track.
Rutgers has struggled out of the gate to a 3-3 record and is not expected to have a successful season. But, like most rivalries, a win against a hated foe can make the next 365 days feel great, or not so great if you play for the Knights.
If history is any indication, expect this game to come down to the wire. Of the last 22 contests the Pirates and Scarlet Knights have played, 18 have been decided by six points or fewer. A number of those games have gone to overtime, as well.
The Scarlet Knights have four players who are averaging double figures in points, led by Deshawn Freeman, the team’s leading scorer at 14.5 points per game. The junior will look to make his presence felt on the offensive end for Rutgers.
Along with Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez have had strong starts to the season for the Pirates. Carrington scored 20 points against Georgia on Saturday, which tied his career-high. Rodriguez had a successful Gildan Charleston Classic, where he averaged 15 points and scored a career-high 18 points in the win over Bradley.
This will be the second of two straight road games for the Hall as it looks to finish the nonconference season strong. The George Washington game and this one against Rutgers will be the first two true road games of the season. It is a good measuring stick for the Pirates early in the season.
Due to the recent firings at Rutgers, which include Athletic Director Julie Hermann, the Scarlet Knights might have even more to play for as their school deals with this transition at the top.
Either way, Seton Hall and Rutgers always seem to bring out the best and worst in each other each year.
It is a game that never seems to disappoint.
Sean Saint Jacques can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. edu or Twitter @SSaintj7.