Photos by Joey Khan/Photography and Digital Editor
Blue and red duked it out on Friday night for New Jersey bragging rights.
No, this was not a battle between political parties, but the Garden State Hardwood Classic at Newark’s Prudential Center. Winners of the annual matchup for the third straight time, Seton Hall showed Rutgers fans that New Jersey is a blue state when it comes to college basketball. The Pirates downed their rivals, 72-61, in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,481.
It was hard for the Hall faithful to foresee a win after a first half that saw SHU score just 23 points on 24.2 percent shooting. Kevin Willard, donning the same suit he had on when Seton Hall won the Classic last year, said his team needed to focus more offensively after a rough opening.
“For some reason, when it comes to the offensive end, they kind of zone me out,” the coach said. “We went into halftime and said, ‘Okay, you guys tried your way, now you gotta try my way.’”
Willard’s way worked, as the trailing Pirates picked up the pace in the second half. The turnaround was thanks in large part to their frontcourt.
The Dec. 23 contest featured feats of strength from Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo, the former earning the Joe Calabrese MVP award for the second year in a row behind a 19-point, 16-rebound performance. Delgado had previously said the Hall would win this one if Rutgers were No. 1 in the country. He backed up his words on Friday night despite a sluggish first half.
“We keep showing we’re the best team in New Jersey,” the big man said after his sixth straight double-double. “They beat me up… I got a lot of respect for Rutgers right now because they showed us they can do it – they could beat us. That was a great game.”
Sanogo, on the other hand, did a little bit of everything. In addition to a career-high 16 boards, the forward had two assists, two blocks and three steals while drawing a few offensive fouls.
In addition, Khadeen Carrington led all scorers with 20 points, going 5-15 from the floor. Desi Rodriguez, in foul trouble, provided some late game offense with seven points and yet another high-flying throw down in the second half. Madison Jones had five assists while fellow guard Jevon Thomas made his Seton Hall debut, though it was a quiet one.
— Seton Hall MBB (@SetonHallMBB) December 24, 2016
For Rutgers, the backcourt tandem of Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson combined for 33 points. The Pirates were able to stop the Scarlet Knights’ big men, C.J. Gettys and Deshawn Freeman. The two had a total of 11 points and 11 rebounds – with Freeman pulling in all of the rebounds.
Delgado credited Sanogo for limiting Rutgers down low.
“I’ma tell you this – Ish is the best defender I’ve ever seen in my life. Oh my god, this kid is unbelievable. I really got a lot of respect for him. He works so hard,” Delgado said. “He does the little things.”
Sanogo, a native of Newark, said that he had been playing with a chip on his shoulder.
“Coming out of high school, Rutgers never recruited me,” Sanogo explained. “My high school coach made sure to remind me so I could go extremely hard against them, so this rivalry definitely means a lot.”
Despite losing three years in a row, Rutgers, now 11-2, was able to show it has improved under Steve Pikiell. The first-year head coach vowed his team would be better come next year’s rendition of the matchup.
“We’ll be a presence here in New Jersey,” Pikiell said.
“I look forward,” the coach continued, “to making this a great rivalry again.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.