Seton Hall embarrasses Rutgers at Prudential Center
NEWARK, N.J. — Electricity pierced through the Prudential Center on Saturday afternoon, and the Rutgers men’s basketball team was shell-shocked.
Long before the Scarlet Knights and Seton Hall tipped off at noon, thousands of energized Pirates fans screamed and heckled Rutgers during the pregame shootaround.
Not long after the inaugural Garden State Hardwood Classic began, the Knights became so stunned that the long-time state rivalry’s next chapter was never a contest.
Behind 6-foot-4 guard Isaiah Whitehead’s 17 first-half points, Seton Hall (7-0) raced out to a 47-25 halftime lead and eventual 81-54 rout of Rutgers (4-4) in front of 8,710 raucous fans.
“We came out with maybe four or five great possessions to start,” said Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan. “They made shots because of their talent, one on one — and some of their offense — and they put pressure on us and we didn’t handle it. They got momentum, they rode it and we crumbled.”
Whitehead, a former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, destroyed every defensive look Rutgers threw at him.
The true freshman seamlessly dribble penetrated and sunk an array of circus shots. He made slick spin moves and turnaround jumpers, also showing off range with four three-pointers.
In one of the more efficient performances in college basketball this season, Whitehead finished with 25 points on 60-percent shooting, five assists, four rebounds, three steals and no turnovers in only 21 minutes.
That garnered him the Classic’s first-ever MVP award.
“It’s seen play now forever and I’ve seen him do it in practice. Nothing he does surprises me on a basketball court,” said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard. “He’s an extremely talented player, he’s an extremely smart basketball player. I think everybody sees how good his vision is.”
The Knights endured it in every way imaginable.
Jordan started with 6-foot-7 sophomore wing Junior Etou manning Whitehead at the 3-spot, but the freshman dispatched of Etou repeatedly on dribble penetration. Senior forwards Greg Lewis and Malick Kone fared no better.
In a telling sequence, Whitehead drained a 3-pointer before stealing the ball from freshman forward D.J. Foreman during Seton Hall’s full-court pressure, flipping it sideways to Khadeem Harrington for an emphatic dunk. That made it 30-14, Pirates, with 9:15 left in the first half.
At one point in the period, Seton Hall shot a sizzling 70 percent before closing the opening 20 minutes with 60-percent shooting.
“It’s easy baskets,” Willard said. “When you’re pressing and you’re getting up and down and you’re forcing some turnovers — I think we had three steals and two 10-second violations in the first half with the press — it gives you a chance to get easy buckets.”
After three early lead changes, Rutgers became disoriented and never got back into the flow of things.
Senior forward Kadeem Jack sunk a baseline jumper to make it 8-7, Rutgers, with 16:15 left in the first half. But a Whitehead layup fueled an 8-0 Seton Hall run, and the Pirates never looked back.
Each time the Rutgers collapsed on Seton Hall in the paint, the Pirates made the Knights pay by kicking it out to the wings, with four scorers finishing in double figures.
“We just wanted to get into the paint and kick out,” Whitehead said. “It’s going to be hard to stop us with our three-guard offense, so that’s basically what we wanted to do: just drive and find the open guy.”
Defensively, Seton Hall’s press exposed Rutgers’ lack of a legitimate ball-handler beyond senior guard Myles Mack with junior guard Bishop Daniels injured.
Mack sunk two three-pointers to spearhead an 8-0 run for the Knights out of halftime to cut the deficit to 47-33, but after a timeout, the Pirates responded with a 9-0 run of their own.
Rutgers was simply no match for Seton Hall, which is playing like an NCAA Tournament team and the best college program in New Jersey right now.
“We just sent a message,” said Seton Hall forward Brandon Mobley. “From the start of the game after the National Anthem, they didn’t want to come across the court and shake hands. Hey, that was fine with us. That’s what they wanted to do, but at the end of the day, we got the last laugh.”
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