Defense the unsung hero in Seton Hall’s Big East Quarterfinal rout of Georgetown

NEW YORK — It’s not often you shoot 23-percent from the floor, miss all nine threes, and only get two points from Myles Powell in a half and still win by 16.

Seton Hall did just that as they advanced past Georgetown, 73-57, and into the Big East Tournament semifinals.

It truly was a tale of two halves and boy was the first fun to watch. The second? Well, it got the job done.

Myles Powell single handedly outscored Georgetown by a point over the first 20 minutes and set a Big East Tournament record for points in a half by doing so.

Somehow, someway, he only managed to score the fourth-most points in a game by a Pirate at the Garden.

“This is going to sound crazy, but that’s what I see everyday,” said Kevin Willard when asked where that first half showing ranked up with everything he has seen over the years.

“I’m just surprised we haven’t seen more of that. I think he’s played unselfish all year which may be one of the reasons. Every time he steps on the court I expect to see that. So do his teammates, to be honest. It wasn’t like we were shocked in the locker room. It was kind of just Myles being Myles.”

Powell, who had the Madison Square Garden crowd gushing over his every move during the first half, scored just two after the break and picked up a foot injury in the closing minutes that saw him hobble to the locker room and return to the bench minutes later.

The Trenton native brushed off any concerns on the post-game Fox Sports TV interview and climbed to the Garden’s podium with ease before dismissing any doubts for a second time.

“I feel great. I’m going to be ready for tomorrow,” said Powell flatly after showing no signs of a limp.

While it was Powell’s offensive salvo that caught everyone’s eye, Seton Hall’s dirty work on defense won the day. It’s been the theme for the team’s late-season surge.

The Pirates scored 22 points off turnovers, 20 of which came in the first half, and matched Georgetown’s total points for most of the first period.

Seton Hall also held the Hoyas to just 57 points, their second lowest total of the season; they scored 52 in a loss to Loyola Marymount in November.

“Coach is always expecting more,” joked Powell post-game, intercepting a question about Seton Hall’s defense that was intended for Willard just like he stole errant passes during the game.

Powell’s three steals in the first 12 minutes of the game were key for setting the tone. Deflections aren’t recorded, but we already know that Powell leads the team in them and he did so again tonight.

“I like where we’re at. I do. I think we’re understanding concepts very easily. For the most part, we’re complicated. That’s one of the hard things about playing for me is that we do things on defense to try to get teams not to be comfortable,” said Willard.

“Because our concepts are down, I think that’s why we’ve played some really good halves of basketball over the last– ever since February, to be honest with you.”

A top-25 team in terms of tempo, the neutral observer may have thought Georgetown’s frantic pace in the first half was just their nature.

Maybe a little bit, but Seton Hall deployed a three-quarters court press, had their guards defending almost to the timeline, and switched defensive looks often.

The chaos paid dividends.

With Quincy McKnight handicapped by two fouls early in the game, Powell took the defensive baton from his backcourt mate, almost literally.

The defining moment for me was when Powell urged his foul-ridden teammate to press alongside him after a steal-and-slam mid-way through the first half.

“I know what my teammates need,” said Powell of the passion he brought onto the court. “My coach always tell me, pick up your energy, get your guys going. I was just trying to do whatever it took to get my team going and for us to get the win.”

McKnight hesitated then backed off, thinking better of Powell’s plea.

Powell would take matters into his own hands and register another steal just seconds later to set up a Myles Cale basket to put Seton Hall up 29-15.

They never really looked back.

“Our whole game plan was to make sure, if you can get young kids to stop and think what they’re doing on offense, it really takes them out of a rhythm,” explained Willard, who brewed a recipe to shut down freshman combo James Akino and Mac McClung for most of the 120 minutes they’ve faced Seton Hall this year.

“We were successful at home doing that, we were really successful there (at Georgetown) doing it. Tonight was the same thing.”

Seton Hall’s defense will be up against one of the nation’s best in Markus Howard on Friday night with a trip to the Big East title game on the line.

Another shaky 20 minutes could spell danger for the Hall.

Or another first half like tonight could see the Pirates playing for their second Big East Tournament crown in four years.