Defense experiences growing pains as No. 12 Seton Hall outscores Wagner 105-71

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South Orange — No. 12 Seton Hall can carry a lot of positives from their 105-71 rout of Wagner, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Pirates.

It’s tough to find negatives in a 34-point victory, but it wasn’t hard to tell that Myles Powell and temporary head coach Grant Billmeier weren’t satisfied with tonight’s win.

That’s the sign of a team that will always be showing signs of improvement as the season wears on.

Seton Hall ultimately pulled away via a 13-5 second half run with ten minutes to play after a Powell four-point play and seven straight points from Jared Rhoden, but much of the game was played within the 8-15 point range.

The Pirates were able to play solid defense at the beginning and end of the first half, but suffered from quite a few lapses on the perimeter and gave up eight first half offensive boards on 20 missed Wagner shots.

The porous nature helped let Wagner hang around for longer than they should have.

“We didn’t play Seton Hall defense, I feel like we can get better but this was our first time getting out there, we kind of had jitters in the beginning,” admitted Powell. 

“We had our runs, they had their runs. We’re a veteran team, we’re going to come back and watch film and come back Saturday and do better.”

Powell gave a little hint that the film session might not be pleasant with Kevin Willard assuming the reigns for Saturday’s game against Stony Brook.

“71 points (allowed), that’s a lot of points. And I know the first thing Coach (Willard) is going to say is on the defensive end, the offensive rebounds that we let up … Little things like that that we know Coach cares about. Film is going to be interesting on Thursday (smirks).”

Despite some high-impact defensive plays in the first half, the overall effort certainly increased after the break. Powell being able to cite how many offensive boards the team gave up was certainly a talking point in the locker room.

 “I thought our defense was much better (in the second half),” said Grant Billmeier.

“Give Wagner some credit, man. I’ve known Bashir Mason for a long time, I knew those guys were going to play hard. Their guys made a lot of really tough shots, but I thought we tightened up things defensively in the second half.”

Like Powell, Billmeier also admitted the defense showed signs, but wasn’t up to par as a whole.

“I think that’s what this program has been made on: defending and rebounding,” said Billmeier, who won’t officially get credit for tonight’s win (“It definitely goes to Coach Willard.”)

“I think we got a little bit away from that and I think our offense is a little bit ahead of our defense, but that’s something we have to improve on and we have to get back to defending at a high level.

“I thought we did some really good things but I think we have a lot of things to work on. The good thing is it’s still November, but we’re not playing the defense we need to be playing come the end of the year.”

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Six Quotes from Myles Powell, Ike Obiagu, and Grant Billmeier

Myles Powell on Grant Billmeier’s job as head coach: “Coach Grant is a great guy on and off the court. Just like Coach (Willard) trusted him, we trusted him too. He’s been with Coach a very long time and everything that Coach wanted done, Grant did. There were no letdowns, we all love Coach Grant and I think he did a great job today for his first time.”

Powell on Obiagu’s game: “That’s what he’s been doing to us since the summertime in practice. He led the N.C.A.A. in blocks as a freshman so anything less than that again— we’re going to stay on his tail. He’s a big presence, him and Ro’ (Gill), and like I’ve been saying, them two battling against each other is only going to make them better. When they go out and you don’t have another 7-foot guy guarding you it makes everything easier.

Powell on Sandro’s behind-the-back assist: “He’s foreign, that’s the flashy stuff (laughs)— he likes that. We get glimpses of that in practice.”

Ike Obiagu on his swat onto the Walsh Gym stage: “To me, that’s what I do so I didn’t expect that kind of reaction to be honest. When it happened, that kind of gave our team the boost that we needed … It’s like instinct, even if I don’t block it, I know I will challenge him and make him miss or change his shot. That’s just how I play.”

Grant Billmeier on Obiagu’s play: “I thought Ikey was really good. To come out and go 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from the free-throw line in your first game. Playing two exhibition games certainly helped him get the nerves out and allowed him to get in the flow of playing with referees and playing in front of a crowd. Really happy with the minutes we got from Ikey tonight.”

“Ikey has unbelievable timing. If you guys haven’t already, you’ll certainly find out how good of a shot-blocker he is. He gives us a great presence and his ability to block the ball and keep the ball in-bounds is going to be very beneficial.”

Billmeier on what he said to Bashir Mason about ex-Pirate and current Wagner assistant Donald Copeland before the game: “Me and him were joking, I told Bashir ‘Keep Donald in the coaching box.’ Everyone that knows Donald knows how passionate he is and how competitive he is about the game.”