The Rutgers men’s basketball team entered this week with a major opportunity and needing to prove they were capable of making significant progress this season. After beating Wisconsin on Wednesday night, in-state rival Seton Hall came to the RAC ranked and looking to continue its recent domination of Rutgers in this series, having won five of the last six. Instead, the Scarlet Knights turned in their most impressive performance of the season. They came out firing on all cylinders and knocked Seton Hall on their heels early, never recovering and Rutgers picked up its best win of the season by the final score of 68-48
You couldn’t have asked for a better start to this game from Rutgers, who came out on a mission. On the first three possessions for both sides, Ron Harper Jr. had two dunks, Geo Baker knocked down a three-pointer, and Myles Johnson already pulled down three rebounds. Rutgers led 7-0 just two minutes into the game.
The defensive pressure was relentless and Seton Hall had trouble finding rhythm. The Pirates missed its first 9 shots of the game, including national player of the year candidate Myles Powell missing both field goal attempts and both free throw attempts. He is usually unflappable but even he looked out of sorts.
On the other end, Rutgers continued to execute in the halfcourt, as Akwasi Yeboah scored five points to push the lead to 12-0.
Not a bad start. @RutgersMBB leads 12-0 five minutes in. pic.twitter.com/AJGL3nOmJ2— Rutgers On BTN (@RutgersOnBTN) December 14, 2019
Once the bench came in, Paul Mulcahy continued the good ball movement by getting into the paint and finding Jacob Young, who drove the lane and scored. The RAC was going nuts and the Hall didn’t score their first points of the game until six minutes in on an Anthony Nelson three-pointer. However, Rutgers kept attacking, as Caleb McConnell made a three-pointer and Ron Harper Jr. converted a three-point play the hard way. Rutgers led 20-3 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the first half. The rout was on, but you knew Seton Hall would make a run at some point.
After Rutgers pushed the lead to 26-5 behind a Yeboah three-pointer, the Pirates finally got off the mat and outscored RU 18-10 in the final 9 minutes of the half behind three three-pointers. The Scarlet Knights were forcing the action a bit and were called for several offensive fouls. Even so, it was hard to be upset about a 36-23 lead at the half.
Rutgers shot 45% from the floor, including 5 of 11 from three-point range. Their defensive intensity paid off, holding the Hall to 29% shooting. Rutgers was dominating the boards, owning a 25-16 advantage and an 18-8 with points in the paint, as well as a 10-2 edge in second chance points. It was a dominant effort, but 20 minutes remained.
After Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano fired up the crowd even more at halftime with a rousing speech, news surfaced that Seton Hall star Myles Powell would not return the rest of the game and remained in the locker room due to a head injury, later reported as a concussion. He finished with just 6 points on 3 of 9 shooting, including 0 of 4 from three-point range. The Hall were now without its two best players, as starting center Sandro was out with a broken wrist in their last game.
The Scarlet Knights kept up the pressure defensively and sharing the basketball on the offensive end, resulting in 7-3 run to open the second half, highlighted by Harper Jr.’s first three of the game. It was 43-26 with over 17 minutes remaining and the RAC faithful were loving it.
Two offensive fouls on Jacob Young and a missed layup by Mulcahy were key moments that helped Seton Hall stay in the game. An Ike Obiagu dunk off a great baseline pass from Shavar Reynolds made it a 47-33 game at the under-12 TV timeout.
With the lead at 13 points soon after, Harper Jr. took matters into his own hands, making a three-pointer from the corner and then converting a three-point play on consecutive possessions. Rutgers led 53-34 at the midway point of the second half and the RAC was rocking. It was 60-38 with just under five minutes to play after a McConnell jumper. They won by the final score of 68-48.
Contributions from everyone were the key to this dominant performance, but Ron Harper Jr. rose to the occasion tonight and led this team like they desperately needed him to. He led all scorers with 18 points on 7 of 16 shooting and 6 rebounds.
Akwasi Yeboah continues to play with toughness and backs down from no one. He pulled down several offensive rebounds and made some big shots, finishing with 14 points, including 3 of 5 from three-point range, as well as 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Caleb McConnell scored 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting, as well as 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists. He played another strong game defensively as well.
Geo Baker didn’t have his best game, but he played well defensively and finished with 8 points on 3 of 10 shooting, a team high 5 assists and 3 rebounds.
Myles Johnson was a beast in the paint, scoring 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting and grabbed a game high 13 rebounds, as well as 3 steals and 2 blocks.
As a team, Rutgers shot 47% from the floor, including an impressive 8 of 19 from three (42%), while holding Seton Hall to just 32% shooting. They dominated the interior, holding a 45-30 advantage on the boards, a 32-18 edge in points in the paint and a 12-2 edge in second chance points. RU did commit 19 turnovers, but it didn’t matter, as their defense stifled Seton Hall all night.
It all happened in front of top target and prized top 50 recruit Cliff Omoruyi, who sat behind the Rutgers bench.
Saturday was about as strong a start that Rutgers (8-3) produced against Seton Hall (6-4) that I can remember and they were in total control the entire game. It was the most dominant Rutgers performance in this rivalry possibly ever. Despite the injury issues that the Pirates had, Rutgers was so good that former coach and BTN announcer Bob Wenzel correctly stated they played so well it probably wouldn't have mattered. A crowd of 8,329 at the RAC was the largest since they played Seton Hall in 2002 and they saw quite a show. This is a team that has a ways to go, but they established a true homecourt advantage this week and it’s clear the players are starting to gel on the court together. What a win by this team and Rutgers is now 2-2 against the Hall since Steve Pikiell has led the program.
Rutgers needed to show what they were made of this week and they came through in a big way. Beating Wisconsin and Seton Hall at home were huge wins and has given this team some major momentum going into the holiday break. They now play just twice in the next 19 days against Lafayette and Caldwell before resuming Big Ten play on January 3rd at Nebraska. This period is critical in their development and progress as a team the rest of the season, but optimism about what 2020 will bring should be alive and well.