Rutgers trailed by eight points with 7:44 left in regulation, saw Seton Hall force overtime at the end of regulation on Jeremy Hazell's 3-pointer and watched center Gilvydas Biruta foul out in overtime on a technical foul for swinging his elbows after a rebound.
And in each instance, the Scarlet Knights were able to smile about the events because for the first time in five years, they have a Big East tournament win to feel good about.
Senior Jonathan Mitchell hit a big 3-pointer with 24 seconds left in regulation and scored eight of Rutgers' last nine points in overtime as the 13th-seeded Scarlet Knights beat No. 12 seed Seton Hall 76-70 in the first round at Madison Square Garden.
Rutgers (15-16) meets fifth-seeded St. John's on Wednesday with tip-off approximately 2:15 p.m.
"I just felt like we weren't ready to go home," Rutgers sophomore wing Dane Miller said. "Everybody was talking, guys on the bench were talking, coach Rice was really intense. I think he broke two (coaching) boards, and that gave us more energy.
"I saw the people in the crowd with Rutgers stuff on, and how excited they were, and how bad they wanted it."
That the win came against Seton Hall made it that much sweeter for Mitchell, who matched a career-high with 25 points.
"This is a 10," Mitchell said in rating the zaniness of the game. "You got to love this game because we split during the regular season and it was a first-round game in the Big East. So, we kinda got the bragging rights for the future."
All of Mitchell's points in overtime came from the free throw line, but most came when he was being aggressive and driving to the basket.
A big point came when Mitchell drove to take advantage of a mismatch against Seton Hall (13-18) point guard Jordan Theodore, who fouled out with 2:01 left in overtime and the Pirates ahead 68-67.
Mitchell also picked up a key foul on Pirates center Herb Pope, who fouled out with 55 seconds left when he fouled Miller.
"We should have finished the game when Hazell hit the shot in regulation," Beatty said. "We stayed together the whole game. We never fell apart."
That Rutgers was able to persevere was as impressive as the win.
Rutgers struggled from the field in the first half, shooting 38.5 percent and made only three jumpers before the break. The Pirates pushed a six-point halftime lead to 56-48 on a lay-in by Jeremy Hazell with 7:44 left in regulation, but Mitchell triggered a 10-1 run with a pair of free throws and Rutgers went ahead 58-57 on James Beatty's 3-pointer three minutes later.
But the Scarlet Knights trailed by two when Eniel Polynice missed a free throw with 40 seconds left in regulation, and Mitchell responded with a 3-pointer. A pair of free throws by Mike Coburn with nine seconds left put Rutgers ahead 64-61, but Rice elected not to foul and Hazell (27 points) made him pay by making a fall away 3-pointer with one second remaining.
"When it happened, the toughness it takes to regain your composure, it's unbelievable," Rice said. "You can't measure it, to be honest with you, and I loved it that they had enough toughness to come back."
Beatty scored Rutgers' only basket 87 seconds into overtime on a 12-foot jumper to give Rutgers a 66-64 lead and that is when the craziness began.
Biruta stole the ball in the low post, and as Seton Hall was slapping to jar it loose, Biruta was fouled. After checking the video replay, the officials called a technical on Biruta for swinging his elbows.
Since it was Biruta's fifth foul, Robert Lumpkins had to come off the bench and shoot the free throws. He made 1 of 2 from the line, but Theodore made two free throws to pull Seton Hall within 67-66.
The call galvanized Rutgers, which increased its defensive intensity and began attacking the basket.
A lay-in by Pope gave Seton Hall a 70-69 lead with 1:42 to play, but it was the last time the Pirates scored. Rutgers forced three turnovers and the Pirates missed a pair of 3-point attempts as Rutgers posted its first Big East tournament win since March, 8, 2006, when it beat Seton Hall.
"The toughness of this team," Rice said, "to continue to follow the formula through missed free throws, through a technical foul, through bad coaching, this team persevered and they had such a toughness."