Neither No. 23 Seton Hall nor Rutgers could have asked for a better outcome leading into the rekindling of their rivalry on Sunday in Newark, N.J.
The Pirates (8-1) notched their second win over a top-10 opponent this season when they put away No. 7 Texas on Thursday, 64-60. Less than an hour later, Ron Harper Jr. knocked down a 40-foot shot at the buzzer to give Rutgers (5-4) a 70-68 upset win over No. 1 Purdue, the first time in program history the Scarlet Knights beat a top-ranked opponent.
Not a bad prelude for the longtime New Jersey rivals before they revive the Garden State Hardwood Classic.
“We’ve got to play a great Seton Hall team and then our next game in the Big Ten is Michigan. … It doesn’t get any easier,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Seton Hall is really good. We’re playing on the road. We’ve got a tough schedule from here on out. These guys know they’ve got to play 40 minutes and play good basketball, and they showed tonight that they’re capable of that.”
Thursday was a stunning result for a Rutgers team that played far short of expectations to open the season. It lost three consecutive games to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass and dropped its Big Ten opener to Illinois by 35.
Playing without Geo Baker (hamstring, illness) for the fourth straight game, Rutgers got 30 points and 10 rebounds from Harper, who put the Scarlet Knights ahead 67-66 before Purdue’s Trevion Williams made a shot with 3.4 seconds left.
“I huddled these guys up, and I’m like, ‘God forbid they score, give me the ball, and I’m going to send them home,'” Harper said. “Mawot (Mag) found me quickly and I was able to cut up the court in like three seconds, and I threw one up.”
Most importantly, the Knights returned to the defensive identity Pikiell instilled in them. They held Purdue — which entered with the No. 1 offense in the country — to season lows in points, shooting percentage (41.0) and 3-point percentage (26.9).
“You’re always in the game if you can defend,” Pikiell said.
Seton Hall defended Texas well throughout the night, forcing stretches in the second half where the Longhorns missed nine straight shots and eight straight shots, respectively. Jared Rhoden led the Pirates with 18 points and Bryce Aiken sank his only made 3 of the night with 33 seconds left to put it out of Texas’ reach.
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said Rutgers was “a very good team” that was working through an early-season lull.
“And when I watch them, I see a team that’s physical, I see a team that rebounds,” Willard told reporters. “I just see a team that’s struggled shooting the basketball a little bit this year.”
The two schools failed to arrange a Hardwood Classic matchup last season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Rutgers won two of the previous three meetings; in both cases, Seton Hall was nationally ranked, but both games were played at what was then called the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC). Seton Hall hasn’t lost to Rutgers at home since 2013.
“They’re obviously our rival and not playing them last year kind of hurt because they beat on us two years ago at the RAC,” Rhoden said. “I’ll never forget (Rutgers’) 14-0 start, that’s kind of a bad taste that I still got in my mouth. So I’m looking forward to that.”
Baker returned to practice ahead of the Purdue game before catching the flu, Pikiell said, so he might be ready to play Sunday. Seton Hall center Ike Obiagu exited Thursday’s game early with an ankle injury.
–Field Level Media