PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Kevin Willard’s stellar sophomore class ran Rutgers out of The RAC on Saturday afternoon, but it was more than just the normal contingent of Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington, and Angel Delgado who did the damage.
Part of that class, but now a redshirt freshman after being ruled a partial qualifier last year, Michael Nzei could not be stopped by the Scarlet Knights.
Who is Nzei?
Out of Our Savior New American, the same school that produced Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo and St. John’s frosh Kassoum Yakwe, Nzei was the No. 9 recruit from New York in the Class of 2014 according to ESPN. He helped lead Our Savior to a No. 9 ranking in the USA Today Poll during his senior season and a 28-3 overall record. Up until his high school basketball career began, Nzei lived in Nigeria before coming to America in 2012.
After all of the adversity that he encountered last year, having to sit out after an appeal with the NCAA was denied, Nzei broke out on the rivalry stage filling in for the injured Ismael Sanogo. The redshirt freshman got the start, and tallied his first double-double of his career with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“I thought Mike played just phenomenal,” Willard said. “He was active on defense and getting on the offensive glass. That’s the way Mike plays. He plays with a lot of energy and at a high level. He ran the floor well. I thought he used his length very well. He’s just eight games into his freshman season, so he will continue to get better.”
As for Nzei, he’s been waiting for this moment.
“I loved watching my team play last year,” said Nzei. “But I wanted to be on the court so bad. This year, it’s like a blessing.”
For guidance, Nzei looked to the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year, Delgado.
“Playing with bigs like Angel down there, it’s a good advantage,” said Nzei. “We talked before the game and we talked during the game. He tells me stuff. He’s been there before. This is just my first year.”
The sophomore posted his 12th career triple-double on Saturday, putting up 14 points and 13 boards in the blowout while being named the Joe Calabrese Most Valuable Player.
“I don’t really care about (being MVP), I just care about winning the trophy,” said Delgado. “I wasn’t double-teamed today, and that made me more confident.”
Delgado showed it, as he, Nzei, and the rest of the Pirates dominated Rutgers 53-32 on the glass.
Joining the big’s for double-digit scoring days were Carrington (18) and Whitehead (13), as Seton Hall cruised to the 29-point win a year after the second-year players wearing the blue and white jerseys crushed Rutgers at the Prudential Center, 81-54.
Willard told the media that Sanogo is out for Thursday’s contest against Troy and should be back for the following game, which is Sunday, Dec. 13, against Saint Peter’s.
Seton Hall has won nine of the last 14 meetings over Rutgers
With 27 and 29-point wins in 2014 and ’15, the Pirates have the two largest back-to-back wins in the series over Rutgers since 1987 and ’88. It’s safe to say the Pirates have one thing consistently going for them right now – The Hall is clearly beating Rutgers in every facet, whether it be on the court or on the recruiting trailway.