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RIVALRY RENEWED: Seton Hall ready for annual basketball classic

New Jersey men’s collegiate basketball bragging rights are on the line once again on Saturday as the Seton Hall Pirates battle the in-state rival Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the second annual Garden State Hardwood Classic at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

The Pirates took home the first-ever title last season as Isaiah Whitehead delivered 25 points and five assists without a turnover to earn Joe Calabrese MVP honors in an 81-54 victory for the Hall at the Prudential Center. The win made South Orange the home address for the custom-made trophy over the past year and SHU will be looking to extend its stay with another victory over the Scarlet Knights in what will be the 67th all-time meeting between the two programs.

Whitehead has been spectacular in his sophomore campaign as he and fellow sophomore Khadeen Carrington are one of the BIG EAST’s premier backcourts. Carrington is coming off a career-high 21-point showing at George Washington.

Reigning BIG EAST Rookie of the Year collected one of his 10 double-doubles from a season ago with 10 points and 13 boards against Rutgers and currently stands second in the league with 9.3 rebounds per game.

Rutgers is in the midst of a stretch of four consecutive games against high-major opponents and has dropped the last three after falling short against Wake Forest last time out. RU is shooting 28.7 percent from downtown as a team with only two players in Mike Williams (12) and Corey Sanders (5) who have knocked down more than three triples through seven games. The Scarlet Knights have allowed a 20-point scorer in each one of their last three losses including a pair of 20 plus-point performances from Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame and Donte Grantham.

51.8 percent of the team’s scoring has come from players who did not suit up for Rutgers a season ago, led by junior college transfer Deshawn Freeman and freshman guard Corey Sanders.

The in-state rivalry certainly hasn’t disappointed as 18 of the past 21 contests have been decided by six or fewer points with five going into overtime.

Seton Hall leads the all-time series, 37-29, and is 29-17 against RU since joining the BIG EAST as a founding member, winning by an average margin of 10.2 points. Seton Hall Head coach Kevin Willard has led the Pirates to three victories in four games that he has coached at The Rutgers Athletic Center. Rutgers has shot under 40 percent in each of the last three and the Hall has finished even or better on the glass in all four visits to Piscataway under Willard.

The stage has been set for yet another battle between two premier New Jersey basketball schools.

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