STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Rutgers won the battle of New Jersey and more importantly its first NCAA Tournament game in four years.
Kahleah Copper and Tyler Scaife each scored 21 points and the eighth-seeded Scarlet Knights used a season high seven 3-pointers to beat in-state rival Seton Hall 79-66 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Betnijah Laney added 17 for Rutgers (23-9), which had not been to the NCAAs since 2012 and had not won a tournament game since 2011.
“The last time we were in the NCAAs, we didn’t make the second round,” said Laney. “We lost our first game. So this might be another step for us.”
Tabatha Richardson-Smith had 18 points and Tiffany Jones added 17 for ninth-seeded Seton Hall (28-6), which was making just its third appearance in the tournament and its first in 20 years.
Rutgers outscored Seton Hall 23-10 over the game’s final nine minutes after the Pirates had come back from a 12-point second-half deficit to tie the game at 56. Seton Hall hit just one of its last seven shots from the floor and didn’t score in the game’s final 3:23.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” said Seton Hall coach Anthony Bozzella. “It was frustrating.”
The Scarlet Knights have now won 14 of the last 15 meetings between the former Big East rivals from New Jersey.
Rutgers led by six at the half, and was up 53-41 after a jumper by Copper with just over 14 minutes remaining.
But Seton Hall made one of its several comebacks. A 3-pointer from the left corner by Janee Johnson capped a 15-3 run that tied the game with 9:14 left.
A 3-pointer from the top of the key by Laney pushed the lead back to eight points at 71-63 with 3:43 left in the game. It was her fourth 3-pointer of the game. She had made just 10 on 27 attempts coming into the game.
“We’re not known as a 3-point shooting team,” Laney said. “Down the stretch if we want to be able to stay in the game going against teams that shoot the 3 we’ve got to be able to knock them down.”
Seton Hall’s Ka-Deidre Simmons fouled out a few seconds later. The Pirates leading scorer, averaging more than 17 points this season, finished with just five.
A 3-pointer by Richardson-Smith with 3:23 left would be the Pirates’ last points. Rutgers’ defense held the Pirates to just 36 percent shooting for the game, and outrebounded them 55-33
Rutgers, which averages 2.2 baskets from 3-point range a game, had five in the first half and Copper (12), Scaife (11) and Laney (10) all were in double digits by halftime.
The Pirates had several comebacks during the game. They were down 19-11 before turning up their pressure defense. A layup by Tiffany Jones capped a 12-2 run that gave Seton Hall a 23-21 lead.
But Jones said something a few seconds later that cost her a technical foul. That helped Rutgers on a 14-1 run of its own, holding Seton Hall without a basket for more than seven minutes.
A layup and free throw by Scaife gave the Scarlet Knights a 42-29 lead before Seton Hall scored the last seven points of the half to trail 42-36.
Seton Hall, which had won a total of 27 in the three years prior to Bozzella’s arrival, finishes with a program-record 28 wins this year.
The Pirates and Rutgers have played 42 times, with the Scarlet Knights winning 34 of those games. The teams played last year in the WNIT, with Rutgers winning in double overtime on its way to the tournament title.
Rutgers will face top-seeded UConn on Monday. The Huskies routed 16-seed St. Francis Brooklyn 89-33.
Seton Hall: The Pirates, making their first tournament appearance since 1995, are now 3-3 in NCAA Tournament games. The loss was the was the second in as many for coach Anthony Bozzella, who brought LIU to Storrs in 2001, losing 101-29 loss to the Huskies in the first round.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights improved to 23-9 in the NCAA Tournament. … Scaife became the third Rutgers player this season to reach 1,000 points for her career. The sophomore has 1,009. Laney, a senior, and Copper, a junior also reached the milestone this season.
THREE SURPRISE: Rutgers ranked 340th out of 343 Division I teams, making just 2.2 shots per game from behind the arc. They finished 7 of 13 in this one.
Rutgers plays top-seed UConn in the second round.
Seton Hall’s season is over.
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