A Day to Feel Good

Rutgers victory over Seton Hall was only RU's 9th win of the season, and the Scarlet Knights would still surprise even the most die-hard optimists by making it to the Big East Tournament. Still, even in a very tough year like this one, nothing can put the juice back into the RAC and get a hoop buzz going like a visit from RU's most hated rival. With the win, it was a day to feel good.

It didn't really matter yesterday whether Rutgers 74-70 win over Seton Hall might get the Scarlet Knights back onto some kind of modest winning streak. No one was thinking much ahead afterwards to Wednesday night's visit from West Virginia, or whether RU might actually be able to reach the Big East Tournament. Yesterday Rutgers beat Seton Hall, and that was all that mattered. What mattered was that RU was able to win THE game that was left that mattered most of all.

This was a win that in some respects salvaged what has become a lost season. By holding serve against the hated Pirates, the Scarlet Knights not only broke a five-game losing streak, they also earned a measure of respect and validation. It is probably the case that Seton Hall, particularly its fans, takes the rivalry with Rutgers more seriously and intensely than does RU and its fans. If the Pirates had been able to come into Piscataway and sweep the season series - if the RAC were to be subjected to Pirates fans chanting "Our house!" by game's end - then this season would have indeed turned into a nightmare from out of the Littlepage years.

Now with a win, that is not the case. Now, Rutgers fans can feel good. Now Rutgers can show that it is indeed a dog fight here in New Jersey for college basketball and the distinction of being the state's best team. Seton Hall and its new coach, the volatile Bobby Gonzalez, had been on a roll again against RU, landing Eugene Harvey and thus ruining the Lance Thomas recruitment, and so far generally out-recruiting Rutgers and Fred Hill. They also came into town with a winning record, and certainly the perception of once again being the better team.

But yesterday, Fred Hill out-coached his rival and showed that it's no doubt quite premature to say just yet which school hired the better coach. Bobby Gonzalez is indeed a formidable adversary, but Fred Hill won this head-to-head battle, and any recruits watching had to be impressed. The RAC was full of juice once again, as loud and electric as ever, back to being a dreaded place for the visiting team. RU shut down Eugene Harvey, holding him, Jamar Nutter and Brian Laing, to a combined 14-for-51 shooting from the field.

Adrian Hill was colossal, Marquis Webb was once again money at the free throw line when he had to be, and Anthony Farmer and JR Inman were able to redeem themselves in the end. Rutgers was suddenly playing inspired basketball once again, showing a resiliency and toughness against an opponent that very much mirrors the personality of its fiery coach. Rutgers also did the same, and its starting to become evident that Fred Hill is indeed very tough and determined and fiery in his own right.

Seton Hall is also RU's biggest rival off the court -for recruits - as well, and that's the reason why this game was so important. Rutgers won the game that mattered, the game it had to win. It was just one win, but it was all about perception and about public opinion right here at home. It showed all is far from lost, and that there are brighter days ahead, even if they don't necessarily come this year. All in all, yesterday was the biggest day for Rutgers fans to smile all year.

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