Saturday, December 16, 2017

5 Thoughts: Rutgers stuns No. 15 Seton Hall in RAC attack

Rutgers earned first court storm since upset of Wisconsin in 2015 with 71-65 victory over archrival Seton Hall. (Photo by Jerry Carino/Asbury Park Press)

PISCATAWAY, NJ -- There were no over-the-top theatrics, no drama in the handshake line or press conferences, solely one team whose desire and will to win exceeded that of their highly regarded opponent, who took the floor as the 15th-ranked team in the nation.

So it was at the Rutgers Athletic Center Saturday afternoon, as the Scarlet Knights (10-3) walked away with a 71-65 victory over in-state rival Seton Hall, finally getting one back against their longtime adversary for the first time since leaving the Big East in 2013 and earning head coach Steve Pikiell his first of what could be many more signature moments by turning the Pirates (9-2) into the latest in a long line of nationally ranked upset victims that have only solidified Piscataway as a house of horrors for opposing teams, especially when the RAC attracts the capacity crowd it did today.

While Rutgers gets nearly a week of rest before welcoming Pikiell's former Stony Brook program to New Jersey in the back end of a two-year home-and-home series on Friday, Seton Hall must regroup sooner, only getting a 72-hour respite before two games in four days against Wagner (Wednesday night) and Manhattan (one week from today) to culminate non-conference play. In the meantime, we'll offer some thoughts about the now-concluded 2017 renewal of the Garden State Hardwood Classic:

1) You have reached the Corey Hotline.
Here are some words that rhyme with Corey: "Gory," "story," "allegory," and you can even add another one in "glory." At least three of the four can be applied to Rutgers' Corey Sanders, whose game-high 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting were enough to establish the junior guard as this year's Joe Calabrese Most Valuable Player, wresting the honor away from two-time reigning recipient Angel Delgado.

Sanders' defining moment in a season following a much-chronicled testing of the NBA Draft waters came over the final 6:06 of regulation, when he scored eight points in the 17-2 Rutgers run that flipped the script on what looked to be a wire-to-wire win for the visiting Pirates, turning a businesslike victory into a cataclysmic defeat.

"I can't even put it into words," Sanders gushed when asked to convey the feeling of the impromptu postgame celebration, in which scores of students rushed the court to mob the Scarlet Knights as Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" serenaded the crowd after the final buzzer. "We just came out and we did what we wanted to do, which was win. We executed our game plan, which was the reason why we got that win, so it just feels good to bring it back home."

"Corey made some huge baskets for us," Pikiell reiterated as the glow of the victory still enveloped his players. "I loved his defense, and I thought he came in at the end well-rested. He had great poise down the stretch and he grabbed a couple of big rebounds too. He stuck his nose in there, and he did a really good job. He was a good veteran guard today."

2) Clipping Angel's wings.
The final box score will show that Angel Delgado amassed 21 rebounds, one shy of his career-high set last January against Butler, but the 6-foot-10 All-America candidate did not have as strong an outing offensively, only making three of his nine field goal attempts while Rutgers' four forwards combined to neutralize the unanimous all-Big East pick and force Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell to beat them while Desi Rodriguez was plagued by foul trouble.

"I thought we did a good job on him," said Pikiell. "I thought the bodies that we put on him -- again, they're a team that you have to kind of pick your poison a little bit, and he's as good a passer as there is, so we didn't get in any double-teaming action. We really just tried to get him off the block and make it tough for him to catch. We had four guys defend him and keep him off the glass a little bit, and make his touches tough. He's a good player, and we made it tough for him to get a lot of touches."

3) Death. Taxes. Sanogo.
The glue guy in Seton Hall's lineup seemed to be the Pirates' savior down the stretch, making plays on both sides of the basketball as Seton Hall broke a 54-all tie with nine unanswered points to take a 63-54 lead with 6:06 remaining in regulation. And on a night where Delgado and Carrington shot a combined 7-for-26, Sanogo's 10 points, four rebounds and five blocked shots alongside Powell's team-leading 18 points were valued higher than usual for the Pirates, albeit in the losing effort.

4) All the right moves in all the right places.
Willard had the unquestioned edge in depth and pieces on his bench, but on this day, it was Pikiell who reigned supreme with an eight-man rotation that was able to outhustle the Pirates to nearly every 50-50 ball and long rebound down the stretch. Casual observers will point to the 34-11 disparity in free throw attempts that favored the Scarlet Knights, but a 17-5 advantage in bench scoring, with a near-double-double from Eugene Omoruyi (10 points and nine rebounds in his second straight clutch game against Seton Hall) and just eight turnovers as a unit; coupled with a team simply hungry for bragging rights (more on that later), was what willed Rutgers over the hump.

"When you have the enemy down and you have your foot on their necks, you've got to keep your foot on their necks and crush their throats," Sanogo opined when prompted for a lesson that could be learned from Seton Hall's bitter defeat. "Don't let them breathe any air. That's what we did. We let them breathe and they came back and beat us. Credit to them, though."

"We've been in games, we've been close," a proud Pikiell proclaimed. "I thought we had a good game plan and they executed it, and that's a real positive against a really good basketball team with a lot of experience. It's a very good day for Rutgers Nation."

5) The rivalry is back...well, it actually never left.

From the double technicals assessed to Rodriguez and Omoruyi in the first half to Delgado's stiff arm toward the Rutgers mascot before the opening tip, it was clear that the battle lines had been drawn in permanent marker. The feeling was no different after the final horn, only reflected in two distinctly separate tones.

"They just wanted it more at the end," a terse Sanogo stated.

"We had them right where we wanted them in the first half," Powell chimed in. "Coming out of halftime, I think we got too complacent and I think coming out of the second half, their first hit knocked us off our feet. They just kept coming. We couldn't handle the pressure."

Regarding the chippy nature of the encounter, particularly in the opening stanza, Sanogo pulled no punches.

"It's a rivalry game," the senior from Newark intimated. "That's how it's supposed to be. We're not out there to be friends, we're not out there to be buddy-buddy. I don't want to be friends with these guys, I don't like anybody on their team. That's how it's supposed to be. You're not going to attack one person on our team and not think anybody else is going to say anything."

Moments later, the mood shifted to one of jubilation and elation.

"I don't have the words to describe this feeling," Mike Williams, a senior who avoided going winless against Seton Hall, reflected. "The last three years, it's eluded me and for me to get it in front of my fans, it's the best feeling in the world. I'm just thankful for this moment."

No comments:

Post a Comment