Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK – Jonathan Mitchell saw Jeremy Hazell pull up from well behind the 3-point line and drain a game-tying shot with 2 seconds remaining in the first-round Big East tournament game between Rutgers and Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden.
As Hazell’s shot swished through the net, sending the game into overtime, Mitchell, a redshirt senior from Mount Vernon, N.Y., thought to himself, “Ho-ly cow.”
“That was definitely a tough shot,” Mitchell added. “But hey, he’s been around the block a few times so I don’t expect nothing less from him.”
Instead of growing disenchanted and disappointed by Hazell’s clutch 3-pointer and the fact that Rutgers didn’t foul on the play, Mitchell bucked up, attacked the basket and scored eight of his team’s 12 points in the overtime.
No. 13 Rutgers outscored No. 12 Seton Hall 12-6 in the extra frame and won the Garden State Showdown, 76-70, despite a game-high 27 from Hazell in his last collegiate game.
Mitchell led Rutgers (15-16) with 25 points, making 8 of 10 from the stripe in overtime.
“Jeremy Hazell, to make that shot and do what he’s done over his career, I’m just glad I have J-Mitch on my side,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said.
The teams had split their regular-season meetings, but Mitchell said this game – which included five players fouling out, all in overtime – was the wildest affair yet.
“You’ve got to love this game because one, we split during the regular season and two, it was a first-round matchup in the Big East tournament,” Mitchell said. “So kind of for bragging rights and now coach Rice can brag a little bit, saying that we got the advantage for the future. It was a great win for us and we came out with the win.”
Down eight points with 7:44 remaining, Rutgers rattled off a 10-1 spurt to go ahead 58-57 on a 3-pointer from James Beatty.
Seton Hall re-took the lead at 61-59, but Mitchell’s 3-pointer put the Scarlet Knights up 62-61.
Rice and Mitchell said they never thought to foul Jordan Theodore on the play that led to Hazell’s 3-pointer. With Rutgers up 64-61 on two foul shots by Rutgers senior point guard Mike Coburn, Theodore handed the ball off to Hazell well behind the top of the arc.
“I thought it was going to be a momentum changer,” Hazell said of his clutch three that brought the crowd to its feet. “Everybody was playing well; we just didn’t get the stops at the end when we needed them.”
Rice said he may alter his strategy on fouling now having seen Hazell’s shot.
“You can debate it over and over and again,” Rice said. “I may change it especially when they have such a dynamic scorer, that I may do it.”
Having knocked off metropolitan-area Big East team, Rutgers will now face another when they meet No. 5 St. John’s (20-10) on Wednesday at about 2:30 p.m.
“I’ve never won a Big East tournament game so it was very, very exciting,” said Coburn, who finished with 11 points. “But it’s not a crazy celebration because we’ve got to play [Wednesday]. You can’t really get caught up in this game here when St. John’s will turn around and kick your butt if you don’t focus.”
St. John’s edged Rutgers, 58-56, on Feb. 2 at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John’s guard Dwight Hardy, a first-team All-Big East selection, said the Johnnies are anxious for the rematch at the Garden, where the Red Storm is 7-1 this season and has beaten four Top 10 teams.
“I can just sense it… we’re ready for another challenge and this is a great challenge,” Hardy said Tuesday. “I think we’re ready to step up to the plate and handle it…And we would have Syracuse if we win and we lost to them at The Garden so we’re getting second chances at this team and we can’t be more blessed with the situation we’re in right now.”
Indeed, the Johnnies have talked about potentially winning the Big East tournament as a springboard to their NCAA tournament hopes.
“I definitely believe our coaches think it’s the best thing for the NCAA (Tournament),” St. John’s forward Justin Burrell said of winning the Big East. “It’s a shame to hear somebody say that it would exhaust them… I don’t understand that. 22-18, whatever the ages of college basketball players, we’re not going to be tired. This is the best time of our lives and we have the most energy so we’re not going to be tired… that’s ridiculous.”
Rutgers may suffer an emotional hangover from the Seton Hall game, or they could be motivated to beat another metropolitan area rival after knocking off the Pirates.
“It’s tough playing them [St. John’s], especially here at the Garden, because they’re one of the hottest teams in the country right now,” Mitchell said. “But I think we’ll be ready to go [Wednesday].”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.