Friday will mark the 57th meeting between in-state rivals Seton Hall and Rutgers. It’s the fourth installment of the Garden State Hardwood Classic, but this matchup has been so closely contested and fiercely battled over the years, no name or title does it justice. The dislike between the players on both sides, as well as both fan bases, is real. When the two schools battled as Big East conference foes, the home and home series each season was truly special. The few years when they met in the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden were epic.
Now that Rutgers is no longer in the Big East, their is only one precious meeting per season. The first three installments were not indicative of the almost two decades worth of games that preceded it. Kevin Willard and Seton Hall bludgeoned Rutgers and Eddie Jordan the past two seasons by an average margin of defeat of 28 points. Between the 2004-2005 season and the 2013-2014 season, 17 of the 21 games between the two schools were decided by 6 points or less. However, there were so many great contests before that time period as well.
If you have never read Jerry Carino’s annual timeline and review of this rivalry, please click here. It is littered with so many anecdotes and crazy stories that happened in this rivalry over the years, it’s a must read. Dave and I would never attempt to replicate such a work of art. However, we want to honor this rivalry with our own tribute as well.
Being that it’s the first installment of Steve Pikiell v. Kevin Willard in this historic series, we felt the best way to mark the occasion is to review all the different coaching matchups between both sides over the past 20 years. It so happens that it begins with the 1996-1997 season, which happened to be my freshman year at Rutgers. Two decades worth of action to review based on the coaching matchups also makes sense. Without further ado, here are what Dave and I believe to be the best and worst games of each coaching matchup between the two schools over the last 20 years.
Tommy Amaker vs. Kevin Bannon: Series Tied At 3
Dave: February 21, 1999 - Seton Hall 57, Rutgers 55 on the road
Rob Hodgson has the ball tipped off his leg with 11 seconds left and down by two points in February of 1999. If he’d had a clear shot to the rim to tie the game, the entire history of Rutgers basketball might be different. Rutgers would have likely been NCAA bound and coach Kevin Bannon would be known for more than just naked free throws. But, alas, it wasn’t to be. I was under the basket for this one.
Aaron: February 9, 2000 - Seton Hall 65, Rutgers 63 In OT at the RAC
It was my senior year and I had the bright idea to have myself and my friends paint ourselves red for the game. It was on ESPN and I guaranteed them all we would be on TV during a big win against blood rival Seton Hall. We were 12-9 at the time and needed this win desperately to keep our NCAA tourney hopes alive. Seton Hall was 16-4 and would eventually make the Sweet 16 that season. The night did not go as planned. We bought the wrong type of paint, which tightened up when it dried and became painful. It was packed and we ended up near the top of the student section, so we never made it on TV. We lost a heartbreaker 65-63 after blowing an 8 point lead in OT. I can still hear the Hall fans chanting and celebrating as we walked out. I didn’t enter the real world until June with my first job after graduation, but it felt like college ended that night. My dream of the tournament while attending Rutgers was dead.
Dave: February 4, 2001 - Rutgers 70, Seton Hall 64 on the road
Rutgers got its revenge in 2001. The game at Continental Arena tipped off the implosion of Tommy Amaker’s number 1 recruiting class. Rutgers was down big early, but stormed back in the second half off of a bunch of Todd Billet threes (I think, my memory is hazy). This game came out of no where in a season where Rutgers wasn’t having a great year. But they took the shine off of a lot of promising moments for Seton Hall and that kind of felt good.
Aaron: February 21, 2001 - Rutgers 75, Seton Hall 57 at the RAC
Rutgers was not good in what turned out to be Bannon’s last season at the helm. However, this win assured Seton Hall finished with a losing season as well, and it secured a sweep against them. That rarely occurred, as the next and last time it did was the 2013 season. It didn’t salvage a lost year, but it made it a little more bearable.
Louis Orr vs. Gary Waters: Orr Won 7-4
Dave: March 7, 2004 - Seton Hall 66, Rutgers 64 at the RAC
In 2004, when Rutgers was on the bubble and Seton Hall was as well, this game sucked the life out of you. Rutgers was coming off a heartbreaking loss at Virginia Tech, and you could tell they weren’t in sync for most of the game. Yet, the rivalry means you don’t give up. And Rutgers didn’t. Andre Barrett hit a deep three late, and Rutgers just couldn’t get back, even though the RAC was rocking. This one put the nail in the NCAA coffin.
Aaron: March 7, 2004 - Seton Hall 66, Rutgers 64 at the RAC
I agree with Dave, this was a crushing loss, especially because they were practically unbeatable at the RAC that year. If Rutgers won this, they would have had momentum and would have been firmly on the bubble for the NCAA’s ahead of the Big East conference tournament. Instead, they let this one slip away and the drought continued. This team made a great run to the NIT championship, which Dave chronicled with an oral history here, including Quincy Douby’s take.
Dave: February 23, 2002 - Rutgers 66, Seton Hall 60 at the RAC
2002 at the RAC. Man, the RAC was roaring here as well—like it did for most of the Gary Waters era. This one had it all, Jerome Coleman threes, fans chanting inappropriate things at Darius Lane, and a fight that spilled into the stands. There were few games like this and when Rutgers went ahead for good, the place was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think. A high point in the rivalry for Rutgers.
Aaron: March 8, 2006 - Rutgers 61, Seton Hall 48 at the Garden
In a rare third meeting this season, Seton Hall had 18 wins entering the Big East tournament, while Rutgers had 17. After splitting their first two meetings that season, Rutgers held the Hall to 25% shooting from the field and kept their NCAA hopes alive with a commanding victory. Waters had already resigned and the Douby era was near it’s conclusion, making this game their true farewell. Rutgers lost to Villanova by 29 the next night and their season ended in the 2nd round of the NIT.
Bobby Gonzalez vs. Fred Hill: Gonzo Won 6-2
Dave: January 30, 2008 - Seton Hall 84, Rutgers 71 in OT at the RAC
The 2008 game at the RAC was a killer. Rutgers was riding high with momentum coming off of back-to-back wins vs. Villanova and then at Pittsburgh. A win here could have really started people talking. But it wasn’t to be. Rutgers was able to force overtime, but Seton Hall just took over after that.
Aaron: March 4, 2010 - Seton Hall 85, Rutgers 74 at the RAC
I’ve never disliked a college basketball coach more than Gonzo. He was a legitimate mad man and really amped up this rivalry when he coached Seton Hall. Rutgers was 15-14 coming in and had just lost to the Hall a couple weeks prior. The last days of Fred Hill were ending uglier by the game and this one was no exception. Hamady N’Diaye was incensed after getting knocked down and ended up with a technical foul for basically trying to fight the culprit, Jeff Robinson. There was a heated exchange in the handshake line between Gonzo and assistant coaches from Rutgers and Hill claimed to have missed all of the controversial action that night. It was a very bitter loss and still irks me to this day.
Dave: March 9, 2008 - Rutgers 64, Seton Hall 61 on the road
Inman at the buzzer in 2008! This game really had it all. Rutgers rallying from a big deficit. Bobby Gonzalez shenanigans. The buzzer beating shot. Man, for a game that meant nothing, it had rivalry ramifications for years. Rutgers sent everyone home with a good feeling. One that hasn’t really come back since.
Aaron: January 27, 2007 - Rutgers 74, Seton Hall 70 in 2OT at the RAC
Beating Seton Hall always feels great, but beating them with Gonzo as their head coach was extra sweet. He dominated Hill during their tenures, but this one was a thriller that Rutgers came out of the victor. Neither team finished with a winning record this season, however Rutgers salvaged the series with this wild one at the RAC, which ended a five game losing streak. Loyal son and senior Adrian Hill came up huge in his last game of this rivalry, scoring 18 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. This contest displayed the real dislike between the two teams and it was the most satisfying win of the season for me that year.
Kevin Willard vs. Mike Rice: Rice Owned Willard 5-2
Dave: February 8, 2012 - Seton Hall 59, Rutgers 54 at the RAC
The “Just a little tap” game where Herb Pope head butted Eli Carter drove me nuts. That game was Rutgers’ to have, but Pope being allowed to stay in the game also let him hit a big three only minutes after it happened. It felt like this game really took the sails out of Rutgers’ season. Shouldn’t have happened.
Aaron: February 12, 2011 - Seton Hall 69, Rutgers 65 at the RAC
It was the first season for Rice and Rutgers won the first game on the road, which was when Seton Hall distributed “Thou Shalt Not Lose To Rutgers” towels. I was relishing in a potential sweep, but it was for naught. Rutgers had just upset #9 Villanova the game before, but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Rice questioned the fight his team had and Rutgers snubbed Hall star Jeremy Hazell scoring the 2,000th point of his career. It was a disappointing night, but the season series was one of the better ones in recent years, including the beef between fans.
Dave: March 8, 2011 - Rutgers 76, Seton Hall 70 in OT at the Garden
The Big East Tournament game in 2011 for sure. Rutgers almost lost on a huge three by Jeremy Hazell at (or near) the buzzer, but Mike Rice outcoached Kevin Willard (like he often did) in overtime. That game had such high stakes, and the way Rutgers got to the rim or the foul line time after time in overtime really set the stakes high for one of the most heartbreaking games ever the next day.
Aaron: February 25, 2012 - Rutgers 77, Seton Hall 72 in OT on the road
This was the next game in the rivalry after the Herb Pope incident that Dave highlighted above, who I view as an all-time villain in this series from my Scarlet shaded glasses. Jerome Seagears hit a huge three in the waning seconds of overtime to secure the victory. The Hall were 19-9 coming into this game and looked like they were NCAA tournament bound. This loss helped ruin that and helped burst their bubble. Dane Miller, who’s career was an enigma, had one of his best games ever in Scarlet. He scored 21 points and added 10 boards, 4 assists, and 3 blocks. Pope had a double-double, but fouled out on a controversial call that gave Rutgers the ball, in which Seagears won the game on that possession. Pope had knocked Miller down hard on a layup that Rutgers players felt was a cheap shot two years prior with that game essentially over, so the outcome of this one was extra satisfying.
Kevin Willard vs. Eddie Jordan: Willard Owned Eddie 3-0
Dave: All of them, particularly the game last year at the RAC. Come on, Eddie. You gotta teach rebounding.
Aaron: December 6, 2014 - Seton Hall 81, Rutgers 54 on the road
Rutgers had just beaten Vanderbilt and Clemson ahead of this game, which was sandwiched between scoring a putrid 26 points in a loss to a top ten Virginia team. I was still hopeful in year 2 of Eddie Jordan, but this game was a red flag defeat. Rutgers was completely dominated, trailing by 20 at the half. They lost by just six the year before, so to see a total no show in this rivalry game was very upsetting.
Dave: Um. Well. Um. Maybe this year things will change.
Aaron: December 5, 2015 - Seton Hall 84, Rutgers 55 at the RAC
Yes, I’m saying a 29 point loss to blood rival was the highlight of this series during the Jordan era. The entire day pretty much plastered the writing on the wall that Eddie wasn’t going to work out. Rutgers was obliterated on the court and Eddie’s lack of effort in recruiting was made public in this article by Adam Zagoria. In the postgame presser, the infamous quote from Eddie after Rutgers was outrebounded 53-32 in this game.
"I told them (Rutgers' players) I’m not going through rebounding drills guys,” Jordan said. “That’s not in my package as a coach. Rebounding is about heart and nose for the ball and wanting to go get it. That’s just not me as a coach.”
This was one week into new athletic director Pat Hobbs’ tenure at Rutgers. This was the beginning of the end for Jordan, which ultimately led to Steve Pikiell taking over the program. Friday night marks his first rivalry game against Seton Hall at the Prudential Center in Newark. Perhaps Pikiell v. Willard will be a long term matchup for years to come. Stick with us leading up to the game, we have a lot more coverage planned.