Seton Hall reclaimed its bragging rights and avenged its defeat from last season by defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 72-66, on Saturday afternoon in the annual Garden State Hardwood Classic.
Myles Powell had a signature performance, finishing with 28 points and ultimately winning the Joe Calabrese Most Valuable Player Award. Powell’s biggest bucket of the afternoon came late in the second half, as Rutgers cut the Seton Hall lead to three with just over three minutes to go before he hit a long-range shot to get the crowd back into the game.
For as good as Powell was, though, it was Sandro Mamukelashvili, despite having a relatively quiet game, who hit everything at the correct time for the Pirates.
Mamukelashvili’s game strayed from where he usually sees it fall, as he finished with 15 points including three buckets from beyond the arc. He also brought down nine rebounds and a block in 32 minutes of action.
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“He gets in a bad habit of getting a long trigger,” Kevin Willard said of Mamukelashvili’s stroke. “Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we probably shot 500 shots each day. Just getting him to shorten his trigger, because he has a good release and release point, that helped him simplify his shot.”
On top of his production at key times, Mamukelashvili and Romaro Gill provided some much-needed help down low after the Pirates were outrebounded, 28-20, and outscored in second-chance points, 16-4, in the first half. Gill finished the game with five blocks.
“I thought [Gill] came in and changed the game for us,” Willard said. “He didn’t have to worry about little guys shootings threes. He came in and gave us good energy and good defensive presence.”
Despite being outmatched in the paint, the Pirates were able to keep Rutgers’ offense stagnant. Through 20 minutes, Seton Hall led the game for 16:40 and were tied with the Scarlet Knights for less than 20 seconds. The Scarlet Knights ultimately outshot the Pirates by an absurd mark of 79-49 in the game, but Seton Hall was able to keep the Scarlet Knights at bay.
Part of the reason the Pirates were able to head to the break with a 34-25 advantage was their ability to force Rutgers into foul trouble. With just 10:22 passed, the Scarlet Knights allowed the Pirates to reach the one-plus-one.
Seton Hall saw its fair share of miscues in that department as well, however, with Taurean Thompson most notably picking up a technical foul which allowed Rutgers to go on a three-point swing to briefly gain momentum.
Thompson’s technical foul was not the end of the bad-blood, as four more technical fouls would be handed out in the game. Peter Kiss and Jared Rhoden got tangled up at the beginning of the second half and were both assessed one and then Montez Mathis and Michael Nzei got involved in a skirmish that resulted in technical and Mathis fouling out late into the second half.
Within the first 2:30 of the second half, Powell picked up five quick points to force Rutgers to take a timeout. That would not be the story of the rest of the game, though, as the Scarlet Knights were able to cut the Pirates’ lead down on multiple occasions, including to three at one point.
Part of Rutgers’ success in that regard came from Geo Baker waking up. After going 0-5 shooting with no points in the first half, Baker brought down 14 second-half points to keep Rutgers alive. A big part of Baker’s stifling was the defense of McKnight, who Willard has relied on heavily to be his shut-down man.
“[McKnight] can lock in on a guy and understands what he’s doing,” Willard said. “We had a couple of turnovers that frustrated him a little bit.”
Despite the technical, cooler heads ultimately prevailed as Seton Hall dribbled out the clock to claim its fourth Garden State Hardwood Title in five years.
“We’ve been the best, besides [Villanova], college basketball program in the Northeast for the last five years. What we’ve done in this area to be a consistent winner, we take a lot of pride in that,” Willard said. “What I told the guy was, ‘This is going to be a one or two possession game, but we deserve the right for the fact that how hard we’ve worked at this program to get it to where it is that we have to win this game.’”
“They left a bad taste for a whole year,” Powell added. “All the top players, they know each other. Just having to travel around [New Jersey] knowing that Rutgers beat us. People were walking around saying that Rutgers is better than Seton Hall. You take it personal. I finally got to get them back.”
Up next, the Pirates will face Sacred Heart at home on Dec. 19 and then head to Maryland on Dec. 22 for another big test.
“We’re not going to just overlook Sacred Heart,” Powell said. “We’re going to get back, practice, worry about them and then we have a big one coming up this Saturday so we want to be ready for both.”
Kevin Kopf can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @KMKTNF.