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February 12, 2013

Scarlet Knights take down Pirates to snap skid

PISCATAWAY - For 38-plus minutes, this seemed like the tidiest installment of the Rutgers-Seton Hall rivalry in quite some time.

On an evening when senior forward Dane Miller eclipsed the 1,000 point mark, the Scarlet Knights used a 10-2 run midway through the second half to seize control, and appeared well on their way to a workmanlike victory over their archrivals.

Instead, the Pirates made things interesting in the final two minutes, hitting two long three-pointers and completing an old-fashioned three-point play, but a last-second heave from Fuquan Edwin was off the mark, and Rutgers held on for a 57-55 win over the Pirates at the Louis Brown Athletic Center

"Again, 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 to shake it off and step up and that's what we did tonight," Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said.

The victory snapped Rutgers' five-game home losing streak to the Pirates and the six-game losing skid it was mired in entering the game, but if not for a heads-up play by junior swingman Mike Poole, it might not have happened.

With Rutgers holding a 55-52 lead and the ball with :19 seconds left, Eli Carter took an inbounds pass and bolted into the front. But instead of pulling the ball out and waiting to be fouled, Carter continued dribbling to the basket and attempted a reverse lay-up, which rimmed out and was grabbed by Seton Hall's Brian Oliver.

Luckily, Poole, who was scoreless to that point, was waiting near the outlet area. He stepped in front of Oliver's pass for Aaron Cosby and intercepted it before being fouled. Poole's converted the first free throw to give Rutgers much-needed breathing room.

"I felt like I saw Eli up and he was by himself and I was the closest guy behind him," Poole said. "I felt like if he would have made the shot, they would have tried to get it to Cosby as fast as possible. He missed it, and they still tried to get it to him as soon as possible. I was just there and was able to steal the ball.

"My idea was to just stay back and protect the basket and protect anything they were going to do. It was good instincts. It was just something I was awake for."

Seton Hall wasn't done following Poole's clutch takeaway, as Edwin hit an off-balance triple with three seconds remaining. Eli Carter made one of two free throws though and with no timeouts remaining, the Pirates had to rely on Edwin's 60-foot chuck that hit off the shot clock.

Rutgers seemed destined for a routine victory for much of the second half, thanks in large part to outstanding effort by Miller, who seems to play his best against the Hall. After punctuating an emphatic block earlier in the half wiith an elongated stare at the Seton Hall bench, Miller drilled a rare triple to put Rutgers up 45-34.

His put-back of an Austin Johnson miss moments later boosted the margin to 47-34 and put him over the 1,000 point mark.

"I wasn't really thinking about it at all (1,000 points). I haven't been thinking about it these last few games," Miller said. "I didn't know I got it until the guy at the table said congratulations and I still didn't know who he was talking about."

Miller produced seven points, four rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes off the bench, also contributing strong defense. Despite his questionable decision to attempt the late lay-up, Eli Carter played one of his more efficient and controlled offensive games, scoring a team-high 14 points.

Senior forward Austin Johnson won the Joe Calabrese Memorial MVP Award, turning in eight points, four rebounds and stellar post defense.

With the win, Rutgers moved to 13-10 overall and 4-8 in league play. Six games remain, with four of them coming against teams in the bottom half of the standings, so there is still time for the Scarlet Knights to salvage the season.

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

"We have to build upon this. This has to be a confidence booster."

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