PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Unpredictability is one of the best things about college basketball.
Rutgers (13-12, 4-9 Big East) entered Saturday night's game versus in-state rival Seton Hall on the highest of highs. The Scarlet Knights were coming off an incredible last-second win over No. 10 Villanova on Wednesday, which garnered tons of attention nationwide. They were playing in front of a packed house of 8,057 fans at the RAC. And they had already beaten Seton Hall on its home court in January.
Seton Hall (11-14, 5-8), on the other hand, was coming off its most disappointing loss of the season -- a 61-59 punch to the gut by No. 7 UConn, a game in which the Pirates blew a 14-point second-half lead. And just a few hours before tip-off Saturday night, the school announced that reserve guards Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson had been kicked off the team.
So what happened? Seton Hall got revenge against its arch-enemy, defeating Rutgers 69-64.
"I think it's going to be a turning point for us," said Seton Hall guard Jordan Theodore. "I think we're gonna take this and raise our game. Because now guys know that we're limited."
Theodore certainly raised his game Saturday. Despite the fact that he came off the bench for only the second time this season (Seton Hall held him out of practice until Thursday, concerned he had suffered a concussion against UConn), Theodore was Seton Hall's best player, finishing with 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the field. Theodore also had six assists and four rebounds, and committed zero turnovers in 32 minutes.
"He played terrific," said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. "Played under control, did everything we needed him to do all game long."
Jeremy Hazell led the Pirates in scoring with 19 points. And on a layup with 2:55 remaining in the game, Hazell became only the fourth player in Seton Hall history to score 2,000 career points.
"That's amazing," Hazell said. "A lot of guys don't make that. I'm just happy being in that category with top guys that went to Seton Hall, like Terry Dehere."
"I think it's well deserved," Willard said. "He's been the heart and soul of this program for the last four years."
In contrast, Rutgers coach Mike Rice did not have many positive things to say about his players following the game.
"It's a very poor performance," Rice said. "Whether it's a hangover from a great victory on Wednesday night, or Seton Hall just coming in with more discipline and determination than Rutgers, [I'm] not sure."
Rutgers forward Jonathan Mitchell, who scored the game-winning four-point play against Villanova on Wednesday, scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, when Rutgers whittled a seven-point halftime deficit to a point yet failed to get over the hump. But second-leading scorer Dane Miller put up a goose egg, missing all four of his shots from the field.
"You finally get people to say nice things about you. And this is how you respond," Rice said of his team. "And so, it's very disappointing as far as that goes. We built up a little bit of momentum, and just didn't have any fight. [We] didn't have much fight at all."
Seton Hall will be fighting with a short-handed roster the rest of the season. First, reserve forward Ferrakohn Hall (3.4 points, 18.4 minutes per game) elected to transfer back in December. And now Lawrence (4.5 ppg, 24.0 mpg) and Jackson (4.6 ppg, 14.7 mpg) have been dismissed, for what the school said was "a violation of team rules and an ongoing pattern of conduct unbecoming of a representative of Seton Hall athletics."
Willard did not elaborate on what the violation or pattern of conduct was but admitted he does wish he had a longer bench. The Seton Hall coach used just eight players Saturday night, and that included Aaron Geramipoor, who played only four minutes.
"We'll have to be a little creative," Willard said. "But that's part of life. You make rules, you gotta follow rules. And this program is gonna be built on that."
Rutgers has a week to regroup before playing No. 13 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome next Saturday. But Seton Hall and its compromised roster must get ready to host Villanova on Tuesday.
The Pirates sounded ready for the challenge after Saturday night's victory.
"We just took it upon ourselves that we're missing two guys, and it's gonna be tough playing without them, but everybody's gonna have to step up and take on a different role," Hazell said. "And guys did that today.
"It's tough playing short-handed, but I think we're gonna do all right, because our guys are mentally tough."
"We have no subs for certain people [anymore]," Theodore said. "Hazzy's not gonna be able to come out of the game, I'm not gonna be able to come out of the game. We're just going to have to get it done."
So, what will happen next for these two teams?
Well, that's awfully hard to predict, don't you think?