Seagears’ 3-pointer lifts Rutgers past Seton Hall

<p>Head coach Mike Rice is now 3-2 against Seton Hall.</p>

Head coach Mike Rice is now 3-2 against Seton Hall.


NEWARK — As Jerome Seagears slipped, the first thing he thought was to find a way to get up Saturday and get back into play. He responded with a game-winning 3-pointer from the corner in overtime against Seton Hall.

The Rutgers men’s basketball team took longer than Seagears’ two seconds to pick itself up out of a nearly month-long funk, but it did not mind the results at the Prudential Center.

The Scarlet Knights left with a 77-72 win after an extra five minutes. Seagears, an unlikely candidate earlier in the season, provided the clincher.

“It doesn’t even feel like we had a monkey on our back,” the freshman point guard said. “It felt like we had a gorilla on our back.”

But as the seconds ticked down in overtime, the only thing that sat underneath Seagears’ back was the Prudential Center hardwood. He does not know how he fell — “If I knew, I’d probably be a mind reader,” he said — but Seagears felt the separation.

Seton Hall freshman Aaron Cosby left to double-team junior wing Dane Miller, and Seagears found himself alone along the right sideline. His lightly contested 3-pointer found nylon, giving the Knights (13-16, 5-11) a 75-72 lead.

But Jordan Theodore wanted to re-write the ending, especially with 13.5 seconds left on his Senior Night. The Seton Hall (19-10, 8-9) point guard nearly did, but his last-ditch effort caromed off the rim.

“Thank God,” Miller thought to himself. The 6-foot-7 wing often found himself on the gritty Theodore, who scored a team-high 17 points. Miller watched as Theodore’s early overtime 3 fell through the net, inching the Pirates closer.

He shook his head as Theodore hit three free throws in the waning moments to send the contest past 40 minutes. The Knights, losers of six straight and eight of nine, would have to try to lift themselves up again.

But Miller and Rutgers’ efforts paid off, holding Seton Hall to 34.6 percent shooting in the second half.

Theodore alone missed 10 shots after sinking Rutgers in the teams’ first matchup Feb. 8.

“We wanted to get Dane on him because I thought it would affect him,” said head coach Mike Rice. “Jordan hit a ridiculous 3 on the wing, but they bothered him. They made him work for everything.”

Miller responded with a career-making game. His final stat line read a game-high 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and no turnovers.

But nearly one of the biggest plays was one Miller did not make. He faced an open-court layup with two minutes left in regulation, with Seton Hall center Herb Pope trailing.

Miller remembered a play from his freshman year, he said, when Pope opted for a hard foul on a similar series of events. So instead of opting for a dunk, Miller laid the ball up with a 3-point lead.

The shot did not fall as Pope fell back with four fouls. Rice called the play “the most bizarre thing.” Miller wondered what Rice thought.

“I looked at the assistant coaches and a couple of my teammates, and they looked at me like, ‘I can’t believe you just missed that layup,’” Miller said. “They had my back, and I love them for that.”

Miller met with those same teammates before the Knights left to face their in-state rivals. They sent text messages to each other Friday night about playing the spoiler against Seton Hall, on the verge of making its first NCAA Tournament since 2006.

Miller could not envision the scenario, not when Rutgers entered the season with its own high expectations and did not match them. There was no way the Knights, especially Miller, could see it happen.

So they delayed it, at least for the time being.

“It’s big, especially this year,” Miller said. “They’re probably the best team in New Jersey with the way they’ve been playing. We knew we couldn’t go 0-2 and go back to Piscataway and go to class. We knew how important this game was.”


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