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March 8, 2013

Rutgers completes sweep of in-state rivals

NEWARK, N.J. - For much of the last 12 games, the pattern for Rutgers has been the same: start out fast, take a halftime lead and then wilt in the second half.

For once, the roles reversed Friday evening, as the Scarlet Knights used a 15-3 spurt to erase a two-point halftime deficit and outscored Seton Hall 10-4 down the stretch to pull away with a 56-51 win in the final Big East meeting between the two Garden State rivals.

Coming on the day the Big East and the "Catholic Seven" officially parted ways, the win gave Rutgers (14-15, 5-13) a sweep of the season series for the first time since 2000-01 and finished ahead of SHU in the Big East standings for the first time since the 2001-02 campaign.

Counting last season's second meeting at the Prudential Center, Rutgers owns a three-game win streak over the Hall for the first time since 1977-78.

"We've been controlling the rivalry the last year," said forward Mike Poole.

Rutgers led 52-49 late, but following a shot-clock violation, the Pirates regained possession with 34.7 seconds left with a chance to tie, but Myles Mack (game-high 15 points) knocked the ball loose from Fuquan Edwin in the right corner, and Rutgers forced a held ball with the arrow in its favor.

"I kept him in front of me, he put the ball in front of me and I dove on it," said Mack.

After the ensuing inbounds, Malick Kone, who contributed eight points off the bench, was fouled and made the first of two free throws.

Poole rebounded the second, feeding a cutting Dane Miller, who was fouled flagrantly by Brian Oliver, which continued a parade of foul shots that enable Rutgers to maintain its winning margin.

It was the second time Poole had vanquished the Hall with a huge play late, in the game. His steal of an errant outlet pass in the first meeting at the RAC sealed the victory.

"I just reached with all my might and deflected it and I got it," Poole said. "It was just a play with instincts."

Rutgers converted 19 Seton Hall turnovers into 25 points and its bench outscored the Pirates' substitutes 17-2. Those advantages were the impetus for the 15-3 run to begin the second half, which turned a 25-23 halftime hole into a 48-38 lead at the 14:27 mark.

The Pirates eventually rallied to take the lead at 47-46 on a Gene Teague lay-up at the 5:28 mark, but Rutgers, which benefited from Teague fouling out with 2:36 remaining, used proficiency at the charity stripe to take control.

Both teams played nine players, but the Pirates, ravaged by injuries, divvied up most of the minutes between seven, while Rice was able to rotate freely as all nine Scarlet Knights played double-digit minutes.

"I was subbing three of four at a time, especially when we pressed," Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said. "I think that might have been the difference in the game."

The next stop for the Scarlet Knights is Madison Square Garden for their final appearance in the Big East Tournament. Seeded 11th, they will take on DePaul Tuesday night at 9 p.m., with a win earning them a berth against the No. 6 seed at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

"I grew up skipping school and watching [the Big East Tournament]…I was a fan," Rice said. "It's sad. I'm excited about going to the Big East Tournament for the last time…We've got to make it last. We've got to make a statement and we're going to try as hard as we can."


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