As part of our rivalry week coverage between Rutgers and Seton Hall, some of our hoop minded contributors reflected on what they consider the high and low points in this matchup over the years. The rivalry to the point of where it is today really begIn in 1995, back when Rutgers joined the Big East and the two schools played twice a season on a regular basis. And on a few special occasions, they met three times when facing off in the conference tournament at the Garden. Seton Hall leads 24-16 since 1995 and 39-30 overall. After a recent four game losing streak, Rutgers ended it last season with a stunning, come from behind upset victory of the then 15th ranked Pirates. This Saturday they meet again at the Rock in Newark. Let’s tip off our highs and lows of this great rivalry.
Low Point: Gotta be the Eddie Jordan era, right? I mean the whole 3 years? But seriously, the lowest note is the final season. Rutgers got dominated both on the scoreboard and in the rebounding category. Afterwards, Eddie Jordan uttered the quote that embarrassed most of the fan base saying that rebounding drills weren’t a part of his coaching package. The wheels came off that last game, but in all, it’s probably a good thing as it has led to one of the more optimistic points in Rutgers basketball history: the hiring of Steve Pikiell.
High Point: Recency bias is here and I’m going to guess a lot of people are going to pick last year’s awesome battle between the two rivals at the RAC. That is a top five RAC game for me in my 16 years of having season tickets. However, my favorite game might be the Big East Tournament match back in 2011. Rutgers and Seton Hall went back and forth all game, with the Scarlet Knights leading by three with only a few seconds left in the game. It looked good until long rang sniper Jeremy Hazell hit a dagger three. However, led by memorable Rutgers senior Jonathan Mitchell, Rutgers spent most of overtime at the foul line and managed to win a thriller and move on to the second round.
Low Point: This one goes to Eddie Jordan’s final season. I’ll steal from Dave on this one because I had just joined the student radio station and I figured it would be pretty cool to be able to broadcast college basketball. Then I witnessed this game. A terrible 84-55 loss at home did not give me much optimism. But hey, at least that trend did not continue.
High Point: It’s easily last season. No, this is not recency bias...well maybe a little. I was never fully into Rutgers Basketball until I got closer to college but once I was in, I was hooked. As a senior on the Banks last season, I was on the WRSU call with my good buddy Tim Catalfamo at the RAC and boy, we received quite a treat. The fact that Rutgers went with all red uniforms at home to clash with the blue made me think this game was going to get weird. A back and forth affair capped off with the signature win of 2017-18 made my short list of best moments as student broadcaster and of course, a fan.
Low Point: A friend of mine, a huge Seton Hall fan, somehow convinced me to go to the Seton Hall game during the 2014-2015 season. I thought what’s the worst that could happen? A rivalry game, going to be close as they usually all are, maybe Rutgers will win and I’ll have something to brag about for the next year. If they didn’t win, it would be close, and I could boast about the progress the team is making. I was dead wrong. Rutgers lost 81-54, looked incompetent at times during the game, and I was one of the only Rutgers fans to make the trip to the game.
High Point: Hard for me to not pick last year’s win at the RAC. My senior year at Rutgers, the team was 0-3 against Seton Hall through my first 3 years in New Brunswick. But I remember going into the game thinking everything was setting up perfectly for a Rutgers victory. Seton Hall a top 15 team. A sellout filled with so much more scarlet than blue. Steve Pikiell and the program in need of a marquee win to show just how much progress they had made. Everything was set for a Rutgers upset. The RAC was as loud as I have ever heard, and the win really showed just how far the program came from when I was a freshman, to my final Seton Hall game as a senior. I always tell friends of mine after the game, I am so happy with where Rutgers Basketball is right now. I remember my freshman year in 2014, going to the game on November 16th against George Washington. The RAC had maybe 1,000 people in it and Rutgers lost 70-53. To go from that atmosphere, to 3 years later a sold out RAC, it made the progress legitimate.
Low point: Without a doubt, the final regular season matchup in 1999. Rutgers had won seven of eight games (their best stretch ever in Big East play) prior to a loss to eventual National Champion UConn. Still at 9-6 in conference, most believed if the Scarlet Knights could just win one of their final three regular season games OR make a run in the Big East tournament, Rutgers should punch their first ticket to the NCAA tournament since 1991. The Big East was insanely stacked with future NBA talent, something that is even more apparent in retrospect. The game with the Pirates at Continental Airlines Arena was a low-scoring dogfight despite both teams possessing offensive firepower. It went down to the wire resulting in a 57-55 loss that Rutgers never recovered from and of course missed the dance. In terms of individual plays, a lot of that gets blurred for me with another two-point loss the next year when my all-time favorite Knight Rashod Kent called timeout when RU had none left and blew a 3 point lead with 49 seconds remaining.
High point: Hmm. It SHOULD have been the season finale in 2004 that would have knocked Seton Hall out of the NCAAs. As a result, I’ll go with the 2012 final matchup which did accomplish that. Seton Hall was a red hot 19-9, fresh off a defeat of #9 Georgetown and having won four of five. Rutgers had some real young talent on the squad with the heralded freshman class and there was more hope than any point since ... naturally 2004. The Knights (almost a completely new team since the 2011 Big East tournament win) were surprisingly 12-10 before dropping six straight heading into the matchup with the Pirates at the Rock. Of course despite the teams heading in opposite directions, it went to overtime. Jerome Seagears hit a shot after Herb Pope fouled out on an illegal screen with the game tied and less than a minute left in OT. Pope probably did not commit a foul on the play, but he deserved to foul out by any stretch. The 6’8” enforcer was and still is my most hated player in college basketball because despite possessing tremendous talent, he instead chose to spend his time throwing (and kicking) cheap shots often below the belt. I was probably happier in the moment he fouled out, than RU won the game or Seton Hall missed the dance. This was also the game Dane Miller elected to actually shoot the ball and dominate on both ends to a level maybe only Dahntay Jones or Quincy Douby could in a Scarlet Knight uniform in the last 35 years, dating back to Roy Hinson.
Low Point: 2015 Seton Hall 84, Rutgers 55
I’m a little conflicted here using a game during the Eddie Jordan era just because it’s almost too easy or cliché at this point. In case you lived in a cave during that period, there were some bad losses. Like… really bad. But even if they lost every game that year, the Seton Hall rivalry was the one you wanted more than any other game. But a year after getting thumped by 27, Eddie followed that up with a 29 point spanking for what would become the largest margin of victory of the series. It was a sloppy game for Rutgers, with Seton Hall outscoring them 27-8 off turnovers. After shooting 60% from the field and ending the first half up by 17, there was little hope Rutgers would bounce back. As if things couldn’t get worse, Jordan followed the game up with some bizarre post-game comments mentioning, “ I told them I’m not going through rebounding drills guys.” It would be the third year in a row Rutgers lost to Seton Hall the first time since 1986-1988. It was the icing on the cake to what would become one of the lowest points of the rivalry.
High Point: 2011 Rutgers 76, Seton Hall 70 (OT)
Considering this was a Big East Tournament game between two bitter in-state rivals, that also went into overtime and ultimately a Rutgers win, I think it must be considered one of the high notes. With Rutgers down by 8 with just over 7 minutes left, the combination of Jonathan Mitchell and James Beatty ignited the team to an 11-1 run. Seton Hall star Jeremy Hazell willed his team back into the game but after being fouled for with 8 seconds left Mike Coburn stepped to the line and knocked down two key free throws to put Rutgers up by three. Again, with 8 seconds left fans fully expected Mike Rice to foul in an attempt to keep the ball out of Hazell’s hands. Sure enough, Hazell got the ball and with two defenders on him absolutely drilled a three, sending the game to overtime. Those types of last second daggers are enough to derail a team, especially after Gilvdas Biruta fouled out of the game early in the overtime period. But the team battled back and found themselves up by three with 28 seconds left following a pair of free throws made by Mitchell. Once again Hazell would have the ball in his hands late, but the quick hands of James Beatty would jar the ball loose, Rutgers would take possession, get fouled and never look back.
For me, it will likely always be the loss at the RAC in 2000. It was the nail in the coffin for the slim hopes Rutgers had left to make the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers led by 8 points in overtime and lost by 2, 65-63. Brutal. I visualized my heart and guts physically ripped out and stomped on in the bleachers of the student section. I’m sure the alcohol helped the effect. This one meant more to me personally because it was my senior year on the banks and it officially ended my dream of a March Madness berth during my college career. I wrote about this before and aside from my dumb idea of having myself and friends attend covered in red paint from the waist up for the game, I’ll never forget walking through the RAC parking lot hearing the glee of Seton Hall fans and feeling the reality of adulthood beckoning.
This one was much harder for me to answer. Last year was certainly one of the best and 2013 will always hold a special place in my heart as Rutgers swept Seton Hall the last season they were Big East foes. The two Big East tournament wins stand out as well. However, I’m going with the 2008 March 64-61 win at the Rock when JR Inman hit that improbable, off balance bank shot three at the buzzer. Rutgers was not good at all and had lost 9 straight entering this game. They trailed by as much as 17 points and the shocking comeback knocked off the Hall’s NIT hopes and sent their head coach Bobby Gonzalez into a meltdown of epic proportions.
Gonzo is my all-time favorite villain in this rivalry and beating him always felt extra satisfying. His postgame presser was a instant classic. He and Rutgers coach Fred Hill were reprimanded by Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and Gonzo was suspended one game.
The biggest reason this is my favorite is this game ncapsulated what the rivalry truly is in my opinion. Neither team was particularly good but the intensity of the game was Final Four worthy. High drama and some ruffling of feathers occurred on both sides. It’s one of the best rivalries in college basketball and arguably the most underrated one. Now that they are no longer conference foes, my dream is they one day meet in the NCAA Tournament. An 8/9 seed matchup would probably be the most appropriate. One day.
Bonus: I view the most significant event in the past decade of this rivalry from a Rutgers perspective being something worse than just a loss. It did take place immediately following the most embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Hall at the RAC in 2016, which Dave touched on. However, it wasn’t just the 29 point loss in a game Rutgers was never in. It wasn’t just the all-time Eddie quote about not coaching rebounding. For me, it was this truly damning article by Adam Zagoria published after the defeat quoting several local high school and AAU coaches about the dismal state of Rutgers recruiting. The gist was that Eddie and his staff had almost zero presence locally on the recruiting trail and didn’t make an effort to host any recruits for the rivalry game. It was hard to envision Eddie Jordan ever recovering from that kind of negative press on top of the blowout losses he had already endured with more to follow. New athletic director Pat Hobbs was on the job less than two weeks at this stage and Eddie’s days were officially numbered. The Steve Pikiell era began four plus months later and the program’s trajectory is pointed upwards as the rivalry resumes on Saturday.