Rutgers, Hall make it, ahem, interesting

This one was up for grabs until the final seconds. Just ask Malick Kone and Fuquan Edwin. AP Photo/Mel Evans

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Somebody had to win.

Rutgers and Seton Hall -- sporting six- and five-game losing streaks, respectively -- faced off Tuesday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center. It wasn't pretty.

"We're certainly not gonna ship this one off to the Hall of Fame anytime soon," said Rutgers coach Mike Rice, whose team won 57-55. "Certainly you would have liked to maybe execute and play with a lead better. But again, I'll take it."

The Scarlet Knights appeared firmly in control after a 10-0 run made it 47-34 with 9:33 remaining. Seton Hall made just seven of 21 shots in the first half, and continued to struggle offensively early in the second.

Rutgers still led by six with 37 seconds left, after an Eli Carter made free throw. Thirteen seconds later, Seton Hall's Kyle Smyth drained a 3-pointer to make it 55-52.

That's when things really got interesting.

With 19 ticks left, following a Rutgers timeout, the Scarlet Knights inbounded the ball to Carter, who raced down the floor ahead of the chasing Seton Hall defenders. But instead of holding the ball out to take more time off the clock and get fouled, Carter -- an 88.9 percent free-throw shooter -- attempted a reverse layup.

"I was thinking, 'No, no, no, no, no,'" Rice said.

Carter missed, Seton Hall swingman Brian Oliver got the rebound … and promptly threw the ball right to Rutgers guard Mike Poole.

"I think we were all a little surprised [Carter] took the layup," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "And when he missed it, it was like, 'Oh geez, look what we found.' That's sometimes part of the game -- you try to advance it, attack, and we just turned it over."

Despite that miscue, Seton Hall wasn't finished. The Pirates even had a chance to win it at the buzzer, after Fuquan Edwin drilled another 3-pointer with three seconds left. Carter was fouled and made the first of two free throws. He missed the second, Edwin got the rebound, but his heave from beyond half-court at the buzzer was way off the mark.

It's the 13th time in these teams' past 14 meetings that the game has been decided by six points or less, or in overtime.

These two will meet again in the final game of the regular season, on March 8 at the Prudential Center. But they'll soon be going their separate ways -- Rutgers to the Big Ten, Seton Hall to an as-yet-unnamed conference with the so-called Catholic 7.

Rice and Willard have already talked about continuing the rivalry, once a year, going forward.

"I think it'll matter more," Willard said. "I was part of the Kentucky-Louisville game six years. I think playing once a year, and alternating the home [court], it gives it a little bit more."

But with both teams struggling this season, the RAC was far from packed Tuesday night, with an announced crowd of 5,803.

"I can only control what I can control," Rice said. "Our team certainly hasn't helped the matter in our performance over the last month."

Neither team is going to be a factor in the Big East standings at the end of the season; Rutgers is now 13-10 overall and 4-8 in the conference, while Seton Hall is 13-12, and 2-10. Pressure is starting to build on both coaches -- both in their third seasons -- to deliver a .500 conference record or an NCAA Tournament bid.

Rice admitted to feeling some pressure after the game.

"Very important," Rice said, about the win. "It's the Big East. You're scratching and clawing, you're trying to work yourself out of a rut here. And every time people keep throwing more dirt on you, it's hard -- it's hard to shake it off and step up.

"It feels good to get a victory, and take the pressure off your shoulders, so to speak. Maybe now we'll go play a little looser, and a little better."

Willard said his team's morale remains good, despite now having lost six in a row. He pointed to injuries as a major reason for his team's struggles -- and to be fair, the Pirates have suffered more than their fair share. Starting forward Patrik Auda was lost for the season after just five games, Edwin is playing on a bad ankle, and Willard didn't even know if Oliver or forward Brandon Mobley would play Tuesday night until after pregame warmups.

"We're not the New York Yankees -- I can't lose three guys and call up three guys, that's not who we are," Willard said. "We're the Tampa Bay Rays -- I need all my guys healthy, I need all my guys playing real well, to be good."

The truth is, neither of these teams is very good this season, injuries or no injuries.

But like we said, somebody had to win.