Knights suffer at hands of playmaker
Through each of his two seasons in Piscataway, Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice talked about the Big East guard that takes over down the stretch — the veteran who takes the ball and responds when his team needs it.
He saw plenty through his team’s losses to start his tenure and he saw another last night, when Seton Hall senior Jordan Theodore took over for the Pirates.
Theodore gave the Hall an early lead, kept it in the game when Rutgers led and took over down the stretch to leave the Louis Brown Athletic Center with a 59-54 victory.
There was no dagger moment, but he did not need it. He was there throughout.
“You have to finish in games like these,” Rice said. “It was a game that I thought was on our side. It was a grind-it-out game. Jordan Theodore is going to get his … but we were grinding out possessions.”
Theodore scored in traffic to tie the game at 41, then cleaned up an Aaron Cosby missed layup to give the Pirates a five-point lead. Rutgers knew the Pirates’ offense went through the point guard that averaged 15.4 points per game entering the affair, but it did not matter. Theodore scored anyway.
The Paterson Catholic product finished with a game-high 24 points.
“Jordan had three great days of practice, really led us well in practice and was a sounding voice all week,” said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard. “I thought that was a huge difference.”
Senior center Herb Pope gave Rutgers a way back in when he head-butted freshman guard Eli Carter with 3:26 remaining, but Pope responded on the court.
He was one of three players called for a technical foul — Carter and SHU’s Brandon Mobley were the others — and it gave Rutgers four foul shots and the ball.
Carter made one foul shot, Myles Mack made two and Dane Miller hit a 3-pointer on the Knights’ next possession. Pope answered with a 3-pointer of his own.
Then Seton Hall won it at the foul line.
“The Pope 3[-pointer] was big, but the next two possessions were huge,” Willard said.
Theodore hit a pair of free throws to give the Pirates a 53-50 lead, then two more to make it 58-51 with less than 20 seconds remaining. The freshman guard Cosby hit a 3-pointer between Theodore’s trips to the charity stripe.
Off-balance, desperation 3-pointers followed for the Knights, but none fell.
Carter and Mack each missed attempts down the stretch, and sophomore guard Mike Poole’s 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining meant little other than a team-high 14 points for the spark off the bench.
It only extended the final moments of Seton Hall’s fourth consecutive win at the RAC.
“Where Jordan gets in the lane and creates for others, we have two freshman point guards and a freshman two-guard — when we want to make a play, we settle for 3-point shots,” Rice said. “They have to learn.”
The tightly contested affair began heavily in Seton Hall’s favor.
Theodore put the Pirates ahead early, and when the Knights took their first lead on Carter free throws, Theodore responded with two of his own.
But Poole put the Knights back in it, even in only 13 minutes.
The sophomore scored eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, grabbed three rebounds and dished out two assists, each more important than the last.
He grabbed a rebound, led the break and found freshman guard Jerome Seagears for an open 3-pointer that tied the game at 24. Then he put back Carter’s miss as the clock expired to give the Knights a 28-26 halftime lead.
“I thought we were going to be all right because we were awful in the first half, and we were up by 2 points,” Rice said. “We don’t have that First- or Second-Team All-Big East player, so you’re going to have to do it together. At the most important times, we stretched apart.”