BY JASON GUERETTE
The rivalry between Seton Hall and Rutgers has been called one of the most underrated rivalries in the country by those who’ve experienced it firsthand. Regardless of where both teams stand in their respective seasons, the game always contains a high level of intensity among the players and the fans.This time, a new twist is added: desperation.
Seton Hall got a career-high 25 points from sophomore guard Aaron Cosby in returning from a one-game absence with a family issue, and Fuquan Edwin added 19 points and five steals, but it was not enough as the Pirates dropped a 78-67 decision to UConn at Prudential Center on Sunday.
With the loss, Seton Hall has now lost five straight games since beating USF at home on Jan. 23. The Scarlet Knights have dropped six in a row since knocking off the same USF team one week before the Pirates did, also at home.
Something’s got to give when the two programs clash at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, AKA the “RAC,” in Piscataway on Tuesday night on national television.
Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, in his third season in South Orange, knows the magnitude of the game his team faces on Tuesday.
“In my experience in my three years, it’s always been a big game,” Willard said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re winning or losing (when you play it). Last year, it was a great game here; just about every game we’ve played (against Rutgers) has been great.”
Another thing that makes the rivalry unique has been the fact that home court appears not to mean as much- the Pirates have won five straight in the series on Rutgers’ home floor at the RAC, with the last Scarlet Knights win at home coming in January of 2007, in double overtime.
That statistic includes the last two seasons, where neither team has won a home game against the other.
Willard attributed some of that to his now- departed floor general, who never once in his Pirates career lost in Piscataway.
“I think (Jordan Theodore) took special pride in winning at the RAC,” Willard quipped. “I wish I could call him over from Europe.”
For Edwin in particular, the game is even bigger. He hails from Paterson, as do two of Rutgers’ star players, guards Eli Carter and Myles Mack.
“I do hang out with (them) off the court, during the season, and in the offseason,” Edwin said of his opponents come Tuesday. “Those guys are literally my brothers, my best friends. Even when we watch them play, I somewhat root for them. And they want to win it just as much as we do.”
It doesn’t take long for the Pirates from out-of-state to get indoctrinated into the rivalry either.
“I understand how (the rivalry) is for, everyone in New Jersey, all the Seton Hall fans,” Cosby said. “It’s a big game, and I’m looking forward to it.”
While the Pirates own a 35-27 lead in the all-time series against Rutgers, the last six games have been split right down the middle, with three victories for Seton Hall, and three for the Scarlet Knights.
The fact that the two teams are now separated by just one game in the Big East standings just adds to the fire that is sure to be on display when the two programs clash once more for Garden State bragging rights.
“At the end of the game, someone’s got to be the winner,” Edwin said. “Someone’s going to get that happy feeling at the end. I hope it’s us.”
Tipoff from the RAC is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday night.