A healthy Bryce Aiken could’ve made all the difference for Seton Hall last year. This week proved how important he can be. On Wednesday, he hit clutch shots to knock off No. 7 Texas, and Sunday he closed out Rutgers in the Garden State Hardwood Classic.
The Randolph, N.J. native scored 14 of his 22 points in the final 9:17, helping the 23rd-ranked Pirates add to their already impressive non-conference résumé with a thorough 77-63 victory at a jam-packed Prudential Center.
When Rutgers got close, Aiken took charge. His deep 3-pointer with 3:51 left, pushing the lead back to 13, all but ended the Scarlet Knights’ hopes. For good measure, he added a hanging banker in the lane as Seton Hall defeated it’s fourth high-major opponent this season.
The Harvard transfer appeared in just 14 games a year ago due to a myriad of injuries. He’s back now, and is providing a major boost off the bench. After starting 0-for-5, Jared Rhoden had 16 points and seven rebounds and Alexis Yetna had 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Cliff Omoruyi and Caleb McConnell each scored 13 for Rutgers, which was coming off an upset of No. 1 Purdue, its first win ever over the nation’s top-ranked team.
Rutgers got close on the strength of a 10-0 spurt that was capped by a Harper jump shot, pulling within six after trailing by as many as 15 with 10:51 remaining. Seton Hall was able to keep the Scarlet Knights at arm’s length, though, and pushed the lead back to double figures following an Aiken three-point play and two free throws from Rhoden.
A 14-0 Seton Hall run turned an even game one-sided late in the first half, sending the Pirates into the break up 10. The biggest difference was on the glass, where an 11-2 Seton Hall edge in second-chance points separated the teams. Kadary Richmond scored 12 points in the opening 20 minutes, making up for Rhoden’s slow start. Rutgers, meanwhile, didn’t have anyone emerge with stars Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker shooting a combined 2 of 10 from the field.
Between the Scarlet Knights’ struggles on their defensive glass and their 10 turnovers, they were fortunate to only be down 10 at intermission. Seton Hall shooting 35 percent from the field, and making only 4 of 14 from distance, obviously was part of that equation.