Rutgers-Seton Hall basketball rivalry, 10 years after Big East breakup

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WEST ORANGE – Kadary Richmond walked into the banquet hall at McLoone’s Boathouse restaurant to a thunderous ovation. He took a seat next to the Boardwalk Trophy – which goes to the winner of the annual college basketball rivalry game between Rutgers and Seton Hall. And he shot straight from the heart to the packed audience of fans from both programs.

“It does mean more,” the Pirates’ senior guard said of the game, which takes place Saturday at the Prudential Center (8:30 p.m, Fox Sports 1).

That meaning was on display Thursday at the Hardwood Classic Banquet, the third annual pregame gala that featured a new twist: Current players attended, joining past players in a wide-ranging panel discussion and Q&A with audience members.

For Seton Hall, Richmond and postgrad guard Al-Amir Dawes were joined by 1989 Final Four star John Morton and fan favorite John Yablonski, who filled in for the late-scratching Eugene Harvey.

For Rutgers, postgrad guard Noah Fernandes and freshman guard Gavin Griffiths were joined by 1976 Final Four guard Mike Dabney and the ever-popular Geo Baker.

“It’s great, what this game has become,” Morton said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching it through the years.”

Surviving and thriving

The rivalry, which began in 1916, has taken twists and turns over the decades. As Dabney noted, Rutgers ran Seton Hall out of the gym in the 1970s, dropping 119 points on them during the 1975-76 Final Four campaign. By the late 1980s, Morton said, Rutgers was   a “buy game” for the Pirates (who hosted them three straight years, including at Walsh Gym during the 1988-89 Final Four season).

Things heated up when Rutgers joined the Big East in 1995, but in 2013, when the old Big East splintered and Rutgers left (eventually landing in the Big Ten), the coaches at the time – Mike Rice and Kevin Willard – agreed immediately to keep meeting annually. And so the Garden State Hardwood Classic was born. It’s going on a seventh straight sellout Saturday and projects to continue long beyond the current contract, which ends in 2027.

The banquet, launched in 2021 to celebrate the series’ return after a layoff during the 2020-21 pandemic season, is run by The Front Office events group. This year it was transformed into an NIL event so current players could get involved. The proceedings were emceed by broadcaster John Fanta, who has the play-by-play call for Saturday’s game on Fox Sports 1 and hailed the series as “one of the very best rivalry games in the country.”

Earlier in the day Seton Hall senior wing Dre Davis, who spent two years at Louisville prior to transferring to the Pirates, said even the famed Louisville-Kentucky rivalry has no trophy for basketball.

“Obviously with the importance of the trophy – there is big energy leading up to the game,” Davis said. “That’s an incredible feeling, almost indescribable to be able to hold that. The goal is to keep the trophy here.”

That big energy rippled through…

Read More: Rutgers-Seton Hall basketball rivalry, 10 years after Big East breakup 2023-12-08 13:30:47

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