Rutgers upsets No. 15 Seton Hall: How one game rejuvenated the New Jersey rivalry
By all accounts, the Rutgers-Seton Hall rivalry is back.
On Saturday afternoon in front of sold-out crowd at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), the Scarlet Knights and Pirates battled in a chippy, physical matchup that ultimately turned into the biggest victory of the Steve Pikiell era at Rutgers, a 71-65 win over No. 15 Seton Hall.
And even before the Knights went on a 17-2 run to end the game, it was already apparent that the Garden State Hardwood classic was officially a thing.
The rivalry between the two teams didn't have much juice leading up to Saturday, as Seton Hall had dominated the series and Rutgers had yet to win the rivalry trophy in its first three years.
But the physicality and trash talk were both there, with Eugene Omoruyi and Desi Rodriguez were both called for double technicals after exchanging words following an Omoruyi free throw attempt. At the end of the game, with the Pirates needing to make a shot and get the ball back to have a chance to win the game, Omoruyi stole the inbound pass and raced down the floor, only to be fouled hard by Myles Powell, another play that needed to be reviewed by the officials to determine if it was flagrant. That ultimately didn't matter, as Omoruyi got right up and proceeded to hit both free throws to ice the game.
Players like senior guard and captain Mike Williams have seen the ultimate highs and lows of this rivalry, as he was there for a 27-point loss his freshman year, a 29-point loss his sophomore year and an 11-point loss his junior year. After the 6-point triumph in his final season on the Banks, he was at a loss for words.
"I don't even have no words to describe this feeling," an emotional Williams said after the game. "It's the best feeling in the world. I'm just thankful for this moment."
Junior guard Corey Sanders was also there in 2015 for the 84-55 drubbing at the RAC and played the hero this time around, scoring 22 points on 9 of 16 shooting, grabbing 4 steals and making all 3 of his free throws. He was named the Joe Calabrese Game MVP and deservedly so, as he helped lock down Seton Hall's guards down the stretch and made key jump shots late in the second half.
After their loss, the Pirates' Ish Sanogo and Myles Powell had some honest words about the Knights, playing down the environment, calling it just "alright," despite it being the highest attendance at the RAC since February of 2002 and one that clearly played a huge factor in their team blowing a 13-point lead against an unranked foe.
"We're not out there to be friends, we're not out there to be buddy-buddy," Sanogo said. "I don't like anybody on their team."
That is not the first time members of Seton Hall have had choice words for their in-state rival, as star forward Angel Delgado, who had just 7 points on 3 of 9 shooting, made headlines before last year's game, implying that as long as he was a Pirate, he would not lose to Rutgers.
As a senior, Angel Delgado will graduate Seton Hall with his last memory of the Knights being a 6-point loss in a game his team was favored to win by 9 points.
Pikiell, on the other hand, was complimentary of the Pirates' play on Saturday and added that he was incredibly proud of his team's defensive effort to close out the game. The numbers speak for themselves.
"We just plugged away on the defensive end and hung tough," Pikiell said.
Although he wouldn't admit it publicly at his postgame press conference, this was the signature win for him as the head coach of the Knights.
And for Sanders, it was his signature game, as he willed his team to its biggest win during his three years at Rutgers.
"It was amazing," Sanders said. "Just being out there fighting with your brothers, fighting through adversity... You just can't ask for much more."