Pirates expose Rutgers’ lack of scoring options in blowout
NEWARK, N.J. — Things were finally starting to go right for the Rutgers men’s basketball team.
After scoring 69 points in a win on the road last Monday against Clemson, the Scarlet Knights entered Saturday’s matchup against in-state rivals Seton Hall at the Prudential Center playing some of their best basketball of the year.
But following an 81-54 blowout loss to the Pirates, Rutgers was given a heavy dose of reality, with the same offensive woes against Virginia on Nov. 29 at the Barclays Center resurfacing.
The game couldn’t have started much better for the Knights offensively. Sophomore forward Junior Etou got things rolling with an early jumper and a pair of defensive rebounds, while two jump shots from senior forward Kadeem Jack gave Rutgers an early 8-7 lead.
That was the last lead the Knights had. As Seton Hall’s offense kept scoring at will, the Pirates began full-court pressing Rutgers’ players and double-teaming in corners to force turnovers to run on the fast break.
The plan worked, with the Knights making a number of errant passes and mishandling the ball, which allowed Seton Hall to score the game’s first 13 fast-break points.
The key to Rutgers’ struggles came from the Pirates’ relentless pressure on senior guard Myles Mack, forcing him to pass the ball or make a difficult play.
“I think we really attacked defensively and put some pressure on people, and I think it was quite amazing to see kind of how we got on those guards and wore them down,” said Seton Hall guard Jaren Sina, who was primarily in charge of marking Mack. “The biggest thing, especially with Mack, was just to wear him down and continue to give him pressure, and I think that’s something that really helped us.”
With Mack neutralized for most of the first half, the Knights’ lack of playmakers and depth outside of Jack was badly exposed.
The Pirates were difficult to guard because each of its five players on the court could score from nearly anywhere on the court, while Rutgers continually relied on Mack and Jack to provide the spark.
Etou, at times, has proven to be a valuable third scorer. But after a strong start, he really struggled to leave his mark on the game, scoring 8 points and going 0-3 from the 3-point line.
The Knights are 0-3 when Etou has not scored in double figures.
Entering the “Garden State Hardwood Classic,” there was little doubt as to who has been the best team in New Jersey for the past decade.
But even though the Pirates have held the edge, the gap between them and the Knights was never large.
Eighteen of the last 20 matchups between the schools had been decided by six points or fewer or in overtime, and Seton Hall only held a 36-29 overall series lead.
Following the game, though, the Pirates left little doubt as to who the best team in New Jersey is.
With a promising freshman class led by McDonalds All-American guard Isaiah Whitehead, who scored a game-high 25 points in the rout, the gap between the two programs could continue to widen.
“The freshman group is the perfect freshmen,” said Pirates rookie forward Angel Delgado, who finished with a game-high 13 rebounds. “There’s a lot of schools that get a lot of [attention] like Duke, Kentucky, but I don’t even care about that. … We come in strong, and we’re going to make sure everyone respects us.”
The dominance was not only shown on the court between the players, but also in the fans in the arena.
Of the 8,710 fans in attendance, a vast majority wore the Pirates’ royal blue colors, with the vacant color of red seats outnumbering the amount of fans representing the Knights’ scarlet.
“Our student section, to be honest with you, probably should get the [MVP] trophy,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said postgame. “Because our guys came out and saw we almost had 3,500 students. Our guys were pumped, so if anyone gets the MVP, it should be our student section.”
For all the negatives, freshman guard Mike Williams has continued to impress in the starting lineup in place of injured junior guard Bishop Daniels.
Facing his former Bishop Laughlin (New York) High School teammate in Seton Hall guard Khadeem Carrington, Williams set career highs with 15 points and four steals, while scoring one of the Knights three 3-point field goals.
Williams also showed strong poise on the ball with none of the team’s 16 turnovers credited toward him, despite the relentless pressure put on Rutgers’ guards.
Williams currently ranks fourth on the team with 7.3 points per game.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.