Seton Hall 69, Rutgers 64
After giving away big second-half leads to Georgetown and Connecticut in recent weeks, Seton Hall wasn't about to let New Jersey-rival Rutgers steal another one from them.
Jeremy Hazell scored 19 points and became the fourth player in Seton Hall history to score 2,000 points and Jordan Theodore tallied seven of his 18 points late as the Pirates (11-14, 5-8 Big East) held off turnover-plagued Rutgers 69-64 Saturday night.
The victory came just hours after coach Kevin Willard dismissed seniors Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson from the team for violations of team rules.
''It feels great, especially this being Rutgers,'' Hazell said of closing out an opponent. ''It's a rivalry game and we're trying to get who's better in Jersey. This is just great doing it here in the RAC, because it's always crazy here. The fans are hyped and we came back and pulled it out. They made it close, but we just had that punch in us and pulled it out.''
The Pirates were lackluster in their 66-60 loss to Rutgers earlier this season, but they played with a sense of urgency, many times going to the floor for loose balls ahead of their opponents.
''It was a big point of emphasis from coach,'' said Theodore, who didn't start because he missed practice after suffering a concussion against Connecticut a week ago in a game in which the Pirates blew a 14-point lead. ''He wanted us to play with a chip on our shoulders and just represent Seton Hall the right way. The last time we played Seton Hall we didn't represent. We just wanted to come out here and get the win.''
Seton Hall, which also got 12 points from Herb Pope, shot 50 shot percent from the field and forced 18 turnovers.
Jonathan Mitchell, who hit a last-second, game-winning four-point play in Rutgers' upset of No. 9 Villanova earlier this week, had 22 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Gilvydas Biruta added 18 for the Scarlet Knights (13-12, 4-9).
Rutgers coach Mike Rice was frustrated after the game, saying his team made mistakes it had not made since early in the season.
''You finally get people to say nice things about you and this is how you respond,'' Rice said. ''Very disappointing as far as that goes. We build a little momentum and just didn't have any fight. Didn't have much fight at all.''
The Scarlet Knights (13-12, 4-9) took their only lead of the second half as Mitchell scored six of the first eight points to give them a 35-34 lead.
A 12-2 run that featured six points by Pope and four by Hazell pushed the lead back to 46-37 with 11:05 to play, but Rutgers would not go away.
A pair of 3-pointers by Austin Carroll, a three-point play by Biruta and five straight points by Mitchell in a 14-6 spurt got Rutgers within 52-51 with 4:18 to play.
After Theodore and Mitchell exchanged baskets, Jeff Robinson hit a 3-pointer and Hazell got his 2,000th point on a fast break to push the lead to 59-53 with 2:55 to play. Rutgers never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
''It was good, that's when we struggled when teams made runs on us,'' Willard said. ''We did a much better job of getting the ball inside. At least getting it to Herb to get it inside out. Even though he didn't have great numbers he got them to collapse.''
Hazell now has 2,005 points for his career, leaving him 54 points behind Greg Tynes (1974-78) for third place all-time on the school's scoring list.
''I'm just so happy and so blessed, my teammates, that's 2000 for them, too,'' said Hazell, who missed 13 games with a broken wrist.
Willard said the total was well deserved for Hazell, who was wounded in a robbery attempt near his New York City home around Christmas.
''He's the heart and soul of this program the last four years,'' Willard said. ''The young man has gone through a lot physically and emotionally this year. He's been here for what, three and a quarter years; to do it in that time is amazing.''
Rutgers didn't get much scoring help from the rest of its team. Dane Miller, who was averaging just under 10 points, didn't score and guard Mike Coburn had four points.
''Offensively we were standing around, weren't screening, doing the things we normally do in the halfcourt offense,'' said guard James Beatty, who had eight points. ''It wasn't their defense, we were just being careless with the basketball.''