DePaul Notebook: Seton Hall streaking into February

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Xavier looms on the horizon, but there’s still plenty to talk about from No. 10 Seton Hall’s win over DePaul.

With so many story lines active and so much at stake in what’s shaping up to be Seton Hall’s most historic season since the early 90s, I’ve found it challenging post-game.

Simply because it seems like every game, win or lose– wait, the Pirates apparently don’t do that this decade — is that much more meaningful.

Trying to fit all post-game content into a ‘Five Thoughts‘ and a game story would result in disorganized, massive posts.

But at the same time, I feel compelled to convey as much material from the game as logistically possible, juggling 2AM return times after games and my 9-5 job.

All that said, “we sleep in May”, right? This is what lunch hours are made for.

Postmortem Thoughts

There was a lot of hype and focus on Sandro Mamukelashvili’s return, but Jared Rhoden summoned his inner Lee Corso: “Not so fast!” Rhoden has been very productive since called upon back in December, and it’s not just in his limited (and often clutch) looks on offense. His rebounding (three 10+ games) and defense have been top notch and it seems Kevin Willard has a very good problem on his hands — it’s going to take a lot for Sandro to earn his starting spot back. Or perhaps there’s a way to have a front three of Rhoden-Sandro-Gill/Obiagu with Rhoden replacing Myles Cale. Forgot to mention: Rhoden’s free throw rate is second in Big East play. Not too shabby.

Kevin Willard and Myles Powell weren’t in great moods last night. And that’s okay. Despite the win, it was perhaps the most solemn I’ve seen them after a league win in some time, you would have thought Seton Hall lost based off Powell’s body language before he loosened up a bit. Coupled with a slightly delayed start to player interviews (and a premature end), reading between the lines says that Willard gave the team a stern talking to after hinting at some loss of focus with off-court things during the bye week (more on this below).

I mentioned it briefly in my Five Thoughts, but the stars are very close to aligning for an incredible showdown with Villanova in three games. Neutrals and fans alike are surely rooting for both teams to keep winning to set up a match-up between two single-digit ranked teams. Wins against Xavier and Georgetown would match the 1992-93 team’s 12-game win streak that ended against Western Kentucky. The 1988-89 team started their season 13-0. And of course winning at Villanova would snap a 27-year winless drought (0-15). The icing on the cake? The game could very well be a packed Wells Fargo Center on FOX at 2:30. What more could you ask for?

Powell was sure to mention how great the crowd was last night for a 6:30 mid-week tip compared to past seasons. He’s not wrong. Official attendance exceeded 9,000 and the second half crowd (much like Powell’s play) played the role of glue and held the team together at key times. The crowd matched what we would see against a mid- or upper-tier Big East opponent in a better time slot in seasons past, no offense to DePaul. The next five home games, especially Villanova, are going to yield even better showings.

This is almost entirely off-topic, but the Prudential Center has apparently tightened their security. I was surprised to learn a bomb-sniffing dog is a new addition to the media security pass-through last night, but then saw three more dogs around the court-side tunnels/hallway to locker rooms. I can’t recall ever seeing one at a Seton Hall game, let alone four in one night. They were good boys (and girls) last night.

Post-game Quotes from Kevin Willard, Myles Powell

Powell on rustiness, bye week: “It’s just been a rough week. We just came off a bye week and any team that comes off a bye week it’s kind of hard to get back in a groove. I feel like we were making some mistakes on the offensive end that we usually don’t make. I feel like it was a lack of reps. Practice is much different than games and we just came off a bye week but that’s not an excuse. We’re one of the best teams in the country, we’ve just got to get better.”

Powell on Kobe Bryant’s passing: I posted the quotes here. The first quote was unprompted, while the other three tweets were specific questions posed to Myles.

Powell on why he continues to be better in second halves: “I’m just starting to accept that I’m a second half player [laughs]. I’ve been trying to force it in the first half and sometimes it just doesn’t go my way. As one of the best players in the country I just have to learn to go back and watch film to get better but those 12 points [down the stretch] came from all my teammates … Without my teammates and without my coaching staff I don’t finish with 24.”

On whether his missed free throws or threes were more frustrating: “Both. As a scorer all of that is unacceptable. If I can get shots up tonight, I’ll try to get shots up tonight but if not I’ll be in there first thing tomorrow morning. All we can do is look forward. We got the ‘W’ today — the stats don’t matter.

“As long as we’re winning– that’s what I came back for my senior year for. To win. The bottom line whatever I have to do to sacrifice that, I’m willing to do. I know we’ll be better on Saturday. As a leader and a captain we’re just going to come back tomorrow, look forward, put this game behind us, and keep trying to roll.”

In addition to the Willard yelling quote from my story, Powell continued with this: “There’s some times that someone else will do something and he will just find me and yell at me just to let it off his chest. Everybody will get back to what they were doing and he would just smile at me and I was like that’s just one of those yellings where he just needed to get it out.”

Follow up, did Willard smile at you after the 9-0 run? “No, there was no smiling today. We’ll talk about it tomorrow, probably. I honestly don’t remember what part of the game you guys are talking about.”

Kevin Willard on Quincy McKnight’s defensive performance: “He got his third foul and he sat a lot in the first half. We just needed some good energy, some good vibe, and I thought him and Jared, their energy was really infectious almost, and kind of just — even though we were missing free throws and having a hard time making shots — I thought their defense kept us upbeat and kept us going.”

On Ike Obiagu: “Ikey’s been playing great, it’s just been tough to get him in there because Ro’s been playing so good. But Ikey’s playing with a lot of confidence, he’s making the progression I was hoping he would make, just like Ro did last year. I think you’re going to see him continue to get better and better, and make that progression just like Ro did.”

On Sandro Mamukelashvili’s return: “It was great. Actually, I thought Sandro played much better than I even thought he would for having four practices. I was actually very encouraged, he wasn’t, I was just encouraged of where he was. In the second half, I just couldn’t get him back in there. For a guy that hasn’t played in that long, it just wasn’t the time.”

On his message to the team post-game: “At this time of year, with everything that’s going on — classes starting back up — sometimes teams need to be reminded of not slipping on the little things, that’s it. Not that they have, but there’s some things that I’ve been seeing, and I just want to make sure we stay on top of what we’ve been doing to get to this point. This is a great group, they work hard, obviously they play hard, we’re just trying to keep them focused. It’s a tough time of year sometimes.”

When asked about officials, physicality: “I think that’s one advantage we have in this conference, we have great referees. I thought the referees, again, they do a phenomenal job. These kids all play so hard, it’s a physical game in this league, so I think our refs do as great a job as anybody being proactive. It’s going to be chippy and you’re going to get into it a little bit, but you’re going to have some things. That’s just part of life in the Big East.”

On team’s poor free throw shooting: “It’s tough. I could say it in practice and Jared goes 90-for-100. Free throws were kind of what got us in the first half. When you’re up six, up seven and you miss two front ends of the 1-and-1, it kind of takes some steam out of it a little bit, and that’s what I told the guys at halftime. I’m like, ‘We’re still playing pretty good, we’re just missing some free throws.’ I just think when a guy’s a career 88-percent free throw shooter goes 8-for-13, sometimes you have an off night.”