NEWARK, N.J.—Every time Seton Hall was on offense, their star player looked like he was attached at the hip to Rutgers’ star player.
The Hall struggled all game to get their leading scorer Jeremy Hazell involved while Rutgers’ Dane Miller shut him down, leading to an offensive outpouring of his own.
The forward’s lockdown defense on senior guard Hazell propelled Rutgers to a 66–60 win. While Hazell had 15 points, it was five points off his 19.8 average on only 6-of-21 shooting.
“He was there on the catch every single time,” Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said. “We all know about his [Miller's] athleticism and his length and that certainly bothered him [Hazell]. He had relentlessness to him and it was the reason why we won.”
And the game plan was atypical of Rutgers defense.
Rutgers usually switches one defense on their one through four positions on screens. Every time a screen set, the two players swap who they're covering. The plan today was to stay on Hazell, and let the guards and the bigs defend.
Miller’s tenacious defense led to a solid performance on offense, leading all scorers with 17 points.
While Miller played one of his best overall games of the year, his teammates know the best is yet to come for him.
“The sky’s the limit for Dane,” senior Jonathan Mitchell said. “He’s getting better each game, and he’s starting on the defensive end. He’s manning up and taking assignments guarding their best players and he’s doing a great job. And now his offense is starting to flow so that’s another threat we have on this team.”
Miller also pulled down 10 boards to notch a double-double. Rebounding was a key for Rutgers as their three starting forwards had 11, 10, and 9 rebounds in Mitchell, Miller, and Gilvydas Biruta respectively.
The frontcourt’s effort helped the Scarlet Knights (12–7, 3–4) outrebound the Pirates (8–12, 2–6) 44–38.
The Hall stormed back in final two minutes when down 10. With 56 seconds left, Fuquan Edwin nailed a 3 to make a 62–58 ball game.
But that’s as close as the game would get. It was really only that close due to the Knights’ putrid free throw shooting. RU was 46.2 percent from the line.
“We might have the whole two hours for free throws [at practice tomorrow],” Miller said.
Fortunately for the Knights, this game didn’t come down to free throws. It came down to Miller’s defense, and the sophomore forward’s play on that end of the floor is a 180 degree turn from what it was just a season ago.
“Dane’s maturity defensively, you could write books about it,” Rice said. “Last year he just stood up away from the ball. He wasn’t engaged. Now he’s coming to me wanting to defend night in night out the best player of the opposition.”
As for the rivalry game, the head coach was more focused on his team’s first road victory in the toughest conference in the country.
“A Big East road victory. That’s all you have to say. A Big East road victory. This league, it’s the biggest and the baddest,” Rice said. “It’s tremendous.”
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