PISCATAWAY — There is no such thing as an easy win for Mike Rice and Rutgers, especially when it comes to Seton Hall.
Eli Carter scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half and Rutgers almost squandered a 12-point-lead in the final 4:23 in snapping a six-game losing streak with a 57-55 victory over its New Jersey, Big East-rival on Tuesday night.
“It’s the Big East, you’re scratching and clawing trying to work yourself out of a rut here,” Rice said. “Every time people keep throwing more dirt on you. It’s hard to shake it off and step up and that’s what we did tonight.”
Just barely though as the Pirates (13-12, 2-10) finished the game with a 15-5 run.
Rutgers (13-10, 4-8) didn’t secure the win until Fuquan Edwin missed a desperation, three-quarter-court length 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“It certainly wasn’t pretty,” Rice said. “We had foul trouble early but we a lot of guys 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.”
The Scarlet Knights blocked a season-high 11 shots and saw Dane Miller became the 39th player in school history to score 1,000 points in sending Seton Hall to its sixth straight loss.
“We have nothing to lose right now,” Edwin said. “We just have to go out there and give it our all. The mood in the locker room ... it’s not good, it’s definitely not good. We are on a six-game losing streak.”
Myles Mack added 10 points for Rutgers, Austin Johnson had eight and Miller tallied five of his seven in a 10-0 second-half spurt that allowed the Scarlet Knights to open a 13-point lead.
Edwin had a game-high 18 points to lead Seton Hall, which had a five-game winning streak at the Rutgers Athletic Center snapped. Eugene Teague added 12 points and Brandon Mobley had 10 points, all in the first half.
The final minute was wild with Rutgers missing free throws and making foolish plays to open the door for Seton Hall.
Carter hit two free throws to put the Scarlet Knights ahead 54-46 with 1:57 to play.
Teague cut the margin to six points with a layup with 1:41 to go and Seton Hall got a big play on defense when Carter’s layup attempt with a minute to go was blocked.
Aaron Cosby had a 3-pointer blocked for the Pirates and he missed another long shot before Teague got the rebound and was fouled, making 1 of 2 attempts to cut the margin to 54-49 with 48 seconds to go.
Carter made 1 of 2 free throws after being fouled with 37 seconds to go and Kyle Smyth responded with his only basket, a 3-pointer, with 24 seconds to cut the lead 55-52.
“Me and my teammates were joking earlier,” Johnson said. “We feel in the last two minutes at the RAC people are like shooting 100 percent, they always seem to make three pointers or long distance shots. That was the longest two minutes of my life. I just wanted the game to be over.”
Carter broke the Seton Hall press on the ensuing possession and inexplicably drove the lane for a layup and missed it.
Brian Oliver got the rebound for Seton Hall and his pass upcourt was intercepted by Mike Poole, who was immediately fouled. He made 1 of 2 free throws to push the lead to 56-52 with 10 seconds to play.
“I thought he was gonna dribble it out, run around in a circle,” Poole said. “He shot it, if it goes in it’s a great play. If he misses it he’s got the world on his back. You gotta take the good with the bad. Thank God I came up with the steal.”
Edwin nailed a 3-pointer with 3 seconds to play to close the gap to 56-55, and he said after the game that he felt he was fouled on the play.
“There was definitely contact, but they just didn’t give me the call,” Edwin said. “It was unfortunate.”
Carter was fouled on the inbounds play and made a free throw with 2.5 seconds to go, leaving Edwin enough time for a heave that never looked good.
This was the 16th time in the last 18 games between the schools that the contest was decided by six points or less or in overtime.
“Every game something strange seems to happen,” Rice said. “They made tough contested threes and some of the best free throw shooters in the Big East missed some. That’s what I’m gonna boil it down to. We took care of ball, shouldn’t have shot a lay-up with 14.2 seconds left but those things happen. ”