10 THOUGHTS ON THE SETON HALL REMATCH
Rutgers (16-11, 7-9) lost a hotly contested and hard fought game to Seton Hall (20-9, 10-6) Sunday afternoon at the RAC, 64-62. The game was close from start to finish. The biggest lead was 8 points. Rutgers trailed by 4 points at halftime. Seton Hall extended its lead to 7 points early in the 2nd half. Rutgers fought back to take the lead 56-54 with 4:30 remaining. But the Pirates recaptured the lead and didn't relinquish it as Marquis Webb missed a game-winning 3PA in the final seconds. Here are 10 thoughts on the Seton Hall rematch.
1. Hokie Hangover. In each of the past two seasons, Head Coach Gary Waters' teams have collapsed down the stretch. After blowing a 15-point lead with 12:00 remaining against Virginia Tech last week, I fully expected another collapse. Rutgers has flirted with the NCAA bubble all season. That bubble burst with the loss to Virginia Tech. I didn't expect the Scarlet Knights to be able to bounce back from the disappointment that had to accompany the realization that the NCAA dreams were over. I expected an uninspired effort against a motivated Seton Hall team still trying to improve its prospects. Rutgers surprised me with its focus and its intensity. Although allowing Seton Hall to shoot a rather efficient 46% on FGAs, the Scarlet Knights nonetheless held the Pirates to only 64 points. Rutgers forced 16 TOs, including 8 from the normally unflappable First Team All Big East PG Andre Barrett. Rutgers gave itself a chance to win by showing up prepared to win.
2. Home Court Advantage. The atmosphere of the RAC is a powerful force multiplier for Rutgers. When the team's play rouses the crowd, the crowd's enthusiasm catalyzes the players. The Scarlet Knights, terrible ordinary or ordinarily terrible on the road, are supermen at home. Rutgers brought a 13-1 home record into the rematch with Seton Hall, with only a 1-point loss coming at the hands of then #1 ranked Connecticut. However, the devastating loss at Virginia Tech delivered a crushing body blow to the Rutgers faithful. The loss sucked the life out of the fan base as yet another NCAA appearance was cost by yet another one win Big East road record. After the 32-point loss to Boston College two weeks ago, the RAC was subdued for the following game against West Virginia. I expected a similarly subdued crowd against Seton Hall, apprehensively waiting for the Pirates to administer another beating. It didn't happen. The inspired play of the Scarlet Knights animated the crowd. And created the environment that such a rivalry game deserves. The fans further gave Rutgers a chance to win by showing up in strong spirits.
3. Control. The aspect of Seton Hall's performance that was most impressive was their ability to control the game. The Pirates kept Rutgers at bay for most of the game and, as a result, neutralized the formidable RAC crowd. Every time that Rutgers was poised to make a run and the crowd was frenzied, Pirate Head Coach Louis Orr called a timeout to regroup. The Pirates would execute out of the timeout, score, and stunt Rutgers momentum. Rutgers led only twice – 2-0 and 56-54. Pirate PF Andre Sweet answered Rutgers 10-2 run with a basket off a strong move in the low post. Seton Hall's ability to outmuscle Rutgers inside provided the margin in a battle of attrition.
4. Defensive Rebounding. The Scarlet Knights collected only 15 of 32 rebounds available on their defensive glass. Seton Hall dominated rebounding 17-15 on Rutgers side of the court. Seton Hall scored 16 second chance points off those 17 offensive rebounds. The Pirates scored 12 of those 16 points directly on putbacks. In manhandling Rutgers on its offensive glass, Seton Hall outscored Rutgers 12-8 on putbacks and 16-12 on second chance points. In a 2 point game. Rutgers' defensive rebounding problems did not result from a lack of effort or failure to box out. The Knights were frequently out of rebounding position when switching defensively to contest shot attempts resulting from dribble penetration. Also, the Scarlet Knights worked for position but were overpowered inside. Unfortunately, the referees nullified rebound positioning by allowing both teams to rumble under the basket. And the Pirates were the bigger, stronger, more aggressive team. So the "anything goes" tenor that the referees condoned played to Seton Hall's advantage. I counted 11 instances where a player shoved or held an opponent who had rebounding position – 8 by the Pirates and 3 by the Scarlet Knights. The refs whistled none. Rutgers did not score off of any of its non-transgressions. The Scarlet Knights didn't even steal possession. Not so with Seton Hall. Five Pirate non-fouls denied Rutgers offensive rebounds. The other three Pirate non-fouls resulted in Seton Hall offensive rebounds – and 6 second chance points. Again, in a 2 point game.
5. Inside Scoring. Seton Hall is not a good perimeter shooting team. The Pirates rely upon their fast break, piloted by First Team All Big East PG Andre Barrett, to generate easy scoring opportunities. When forced to run a halfcourt offense, the Pirates use a lot of motion to free their guards curling inside around screens. Seton Hall also looks to score in the low post as their motion offense tends to pull the defense above the foul line, making double teams difficult in the low post. Seton Hall manhandled Rutgers inside. The Pirates scored 27 of their 64 points inside – excluding transition, putbacks, and inside scoring off dribble penetration. Twenty-seven points strictly on low post moves, inside curls, or inside cuts. Rutgers managed only 19 points inside. The Pirates outscored Rutgers inside 15-7 in the first half, which the Pirates led 33-29 at halftime. Rutgers matched Seton Hall with 12 inside points in the second half but could not overcome the halftime deficit. As with their offensive rebounding advantage, Seton Hall's inside scoring was aided by the referees. The Pirates repeatedly traveled in the lane and rarely were whistled for violations. I counted 7 instances of non-travels – all by the Pirates – that resulted in 6 points. In one remarkable occurrence late in the first half, Sweet scored after shuffling three times. Again, in a 2 point game.
6. Transition Defense. Seton Hall outscored Rutgers 14-4 in fast break points in the first encounter at the Meadowlands. The diminutive Barrett is a gifted open-court player whose speed with the dribble is complemented by exception vision. The Pirate wing players – John Allen, Marcus Toney-El, and JR Morris – hustle downcourt to fill the lanes and finish passes from Barrett. Minimizing transition scoring opportunities is always one key to beating Seton Hall. The lack of perimeter scoring means that the Pirates struggle to score in their halfcourt offense. Rutgers held Seton Hall to only 6 points in transition. And Seton Hall only outscored Rutgers 6-4 in transition. The Scarlet Knights transition defense was a key contributor to keeping Rutgers in the game.
7. Sean Axani. Waters persuaded Axani to return for a fifth season last fall after the disillusioned player was ready to leave a team in total disarray and move on with his life. Axani had redshirted as a freshman with a broken foot. And he had graduated last spring with his undergraduate degree. Waters desperately needed Axani's experience and size to shore up a depleted front line. Axani agreed to return and attempted one final run at the NCAAs. Axani's dream ended much as did that of Rashod Kent two years ago, with an awful performance in a demoralizing loss at Virginia Tech. However, Axani recovered to perform memorably on Senior Night. Axani had a very quiet first half, scoring only 2 points and collecting only 2 rebounds. But Sean exploded in the second half, scoring 10 points on 5 of 6 FGAs and grabbing 8 rebounds (6 offensive). Axani scored 8 of Rutgers final 18 points in the final 8 minutes. He nearly willed Rutgers to a comeback victory in his regular season home finale. Possibly his home finale, depending how the NIT is scheduled.
8. Quincy Douby. After Barrett torched Webb and Juel Wiggan at the Meadowlands, Douby drew the principle defensive assignment on Barrett. Douby entered the game at 13:45 and played the rest of the half. Douby started the second half and played all but two minutes. Douby's quickness and wingspan neutralized the smaller Barrett. Douby limited Barrett to 13 points on 4 of 12 FGAs. Meanwhile, at the other end, Quincy scored 15 points on 6 of 11 FGAs and 3 of 5 3PAs. Unfortunately, the Scarlet Knights weren't able to free Douby for more shots. A reflection of the improvisational nature of the Rutgers offense under Gary Waters. Douby's performance was tempered by rumors that emerged afterwards that he is unhappy at Rutgers and may transfer. Louisville allegedly is interested in Douby if Cardinal recruit Sebastian Telfair abandons Louisville for the NBA draft. This situation is eerily similar to the transfer of Dahntay Jones to Duke five years ago. Jones departure turned the roster attrition warning lights into a full-fledged abandon ship distress call. Waters has overseen similarly terrible roster attrition. The loss of Douby, should it happen, could be similarly crippling to Waters' future at Rutgers.
9. Herve Lamizana. Herve's performance against Seton Hall typified his season and Rutgers season. Waters started a big lineup with Herve at SF, matched up against Pirate nemesis Toney-El. Rutgers immediately attacked Toney-El with Lamizana in the low post. And Seton Hall immediately retaliated with double teams by either Axani's or Adrian Hill's defenders. Poor reactions by Lamizana and poor offensive spacing by Hill and Axani prevented Rutgers from exploiting the double teams. Herve committed 3 TOs and scored only 2 points and recorded 2 assists during the opening 6 minutes that Waters employed the big lineup. Thereafter, Waters used a three guard lineup with Herve at PF. Matched up against Sweet, Herve recorded 5 assists over his final 27 minutes to only one TO. With Douby replacing Hill on the floor, the Pirates defensive rotations were more limited because Seton Hall wouldn't leave Ricky Shields or Douby uncovered. The result was more room for Axani to work inside. And fewer double teams on Herve in the low post. Lamizana was able to work for many good shots but simply failed to convert the shots. He made only 4 of 10 FGAs and should have made several of those missed baskets. In a 2 point loss. On the final inbounds play, Herve abandoned position in the low post and drifted towards the perimeter where Toney-El unwittingly sandwiched Herve between Sweet. Lamizana simply didn't fight hard enough for position on the low block. From where he could have picked apart the Pirate defense.
10. Ricky Shields. The Invisible Man struck again. In 34 minutes, Shields scored only 7 points on 3 of 12 FGAs and 1 of 7 3PAs. Ricky's shot selection was atrocious – 8 of 8 12 FGAs (and 5 of 7 3PAs) were ill-advised shots. When Shields wasn't forcing 3-balls, he was taking pull-up, fadeaway jumpers off dribble penetration. And barely hit iron. His counterpart, Allen, was the leading scorer with 17 points on 4 of 7 FGAs and 8 of 8 FTAs. Shields gave Allen 4 FTA on two stupid fouls late in the first half – one on the opposite side of the court from the ball and the other on a missed defensive rebound. Speaking of which, in a game where Rutgers was manhandled on its defensive glass, Shields contributed one defensive rebound. If Waters is looking for senior leadership next year, he better look somewhere else. Shields is a salvage project right now. Which is incomprehensible after seeing his promise as a freshman.
Sunday's loss marks the Rutgers' fourth consecutive loss to Seton Hall. The second consecutive loss at the RAC. And the fifth in six games under Waters. Yet the message boards are filled with praise for a hard fought loss. And glee that Waters has exceeded the remarkably low third-year expectations for his program. Where is the outrage? Waters arrived on the Banks at the same time as Orr took the reigns of the South Orange Fight Club. Waters inherited fertile recruiting grounds that initially were more receptive to him than they were to neighbor up north. And Waters gained a decided edge with a remarkable first year turnaround of a demoralized Scarlet Knight program while Orr simply struggled to keep his ship from capsizing. Yet, two years later, Orr's team is a lock for the NCAA tournament while Waters' team lacks talent, depth, discipline, and poise. The two programs now embark upon disparate post-seasons. Orr adds an NCAA appearance to his Seton Hall sales pitch while Waters is simply treading water, right back where he was two years ago.
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