Photo courtesy of Daly Dose of Hoops/Bob O’Dea.
By David Cordova
This is Part 1 of a six-part series on the Seton Hall Men’s Basketball program, as they go through the month of December. Part 1 will talk about the beginning of the season and the game against Louisville on December 1st.
Over the last few years, the basketball program at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, has been flourishing. In the 2015-16 season, the Pirates would win their third Big East Tournament championship, their first since 1993, and make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. Within the next two seasons, they would make two more appearances in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Last season, the Pirates went 22-10 overall (10-8 in the Big East Conference) and made the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they would lose a close game to Kansas by four, 83-79. Also, their core players such as seniors Angel Delgado, Khadeeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo would graduate.
Major contributors coming back on this year’s team is junior shooting guard and Preseason All-Big East Second Team selection Myles Powell, sophomore guard/forward Myles Cale, senior forward Michael Nzei and sophomore forward, Sandro Mamukelashvili, who were the only holdovers from last year’s team.
The newcomers on this year’s team were freshmen such as point guard Anthony Nelson, guard/forward Jared Rhoden and forward Darnell Brodie. Also coming in were transfer players such as combo guard Quincy McKnight (Sacred Heart), forward Taurean Thompson (Syracuse) and center Romaro Gill (Vincennes University).
With all the new pieces coming in, it has been a tough transition for the Pirates, but things have a chance to get better, as it is a rebuilding season. In the month of November, the Pirates went 4-2, and went to out to the West Coast to compete in the Wooden Legacy Tournament in Fullerton, California. That tournament showed how great things can be when the Pirates get clicking.
In the quarterfinals, Powell scored 40 points, as Seton Hall defeated Grand Canyon, 82-75. In the semifinals, they would defeat Hawaii, 64-54. In the championship, they would play a very close game against Miami (Florida), in which they would wind up victorious, 83-81, winning the Wooden Legacy title.
Now that the month of November had passed, it was time to turn the page and regroup for the first game of the new month against the Louisville Cardinals at their home arena in Newark, the Prudential Center. The Cardinals had just come off of upset win at home against Michigan State, which was then the No. 9 team in the country.
The question going into this matchup was whether Seton Hall would fight to earn a victory and keep up the momentum they built on the West Coast or would they let Louisville leave the Garden State with a victory? That question was answered when the clock read 0.00 seconds after the showdown.
Early on in the game, the Pirates came out as the aggressors as they ran out to a quick 15-5 lead after a dunk by Nzei, with 13:57 to go in the first half. However, the Cardinals would step up their game, as they would get points from redshirt senior center Steven Enoch and redshirt junior guard Dwayne Sutton, as they got closer and closer in the half.
On the other side, Powell would score nine points in the hat and got contributions from various teammates. But the Cardinals would gain plenty of momentum, and end the half with the lead, 38-36.
In the second half, the Pirates got back to where they started in the first half, as they would lead by as many as nine, 52-43, with 13:52 to go with contributions by Powell, Mamukelashvili and McKnight.
However, Louisville rose again in the half as they would get baskets from graduate student and shooting guard Christen Cunningham, redshirt junior shooting guard Ryan McMahon and also free throws towards the end from sophomore forward Jordan Nwora.
Seton Hall countered with free throws from Powell and baskets by Nelson and Cale down the stretch. Although they fought a valiant effort, they would wind up losing by five, 70-65.
In the press conference, Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said, “I was proud of our guys’ effort, I was proud of the way they battled.” Although Powell was the leading scorer with 23 points, the only other player in double-digit scoring was Mamukelashvili with 10 points, while the rest of the team was in single digits.
Although they put up a valiant effort, the Pirates were out-rebounded by the Cardinals, 40-28, shot a lower percentage than their counterparts and also struggled on shooting from three-point range. However, they took care of the ball better than their counterparts, as Seton Hall had only seven turnovers compared to Louisville’s 16 turnovers.
However, Willard knew that there were some areas in which the team had to improve. “In the Miami game, we missed four layups. I think the biggest thing is the guys have to get a little more confident in the fact that they’ve gotta make a play. They gotta continue to get confidence that they’re gonna be able to get opportunities.”
He also added: “We’re nowhere near a finished product, but there are a lot of little things we can improve on. Getting this group to understand time and score, and opportunities, there’s no better way to do it against these teams. They made plays, we didn’t.”
With the first game of the month behind them, the Pirates are regrouping for tonight’s game against New Hampshire at the Rock, which is the common name for the Prudential Center.
Any mistakes that they made in the Louisville game will be corrected after game film and they will apply the lessons they have learned onto tonight’s game and beyond.
This month is an even bigger month for the Pirates, as they have three big non-conference games coming up. This Saturday, they will be playing against Kentucky, the No. 9 team in the Associated Poll, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Then next Saturday, December 15th, they will be playing an in-state rivalry game against Rutgers, in what will be a sold-out game at the Rock. Following that will be two more games, with Sacred Heart coming to town on December 19th and a road game against Maryland on December 22nd to close out non-conference play.
But before one thinks ahead to the more intriguing games, there is a game to be played tonight at the Rock.
Our next story in this series will be about the big game against Kentucky, rated the No. 9 team in the country by the Associated Press, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Part 2 will be coming out this Sunday, December 9th.