Seton Hall fell behind No. 4 Xavier by 20 at the half but were still able to mount a frantic comeback that fell short in the closing minutes, as the Hall dropped their fourth straight.
Much like their recent flop at Georgetown, Seton Hall (17-9, 6-7) got off to a slow start offensively after turning it over three times early and taking several low-percentage looks.
Xavier and a lights out Trevon Bluiett (33 pts, 8-11 3pt), did not.
The Hall was quickly doubled up on 22-11 at the second media timeout and a 9-0 Xavier run expanded their lead to an embarrassing 39-20 at the final timeout.
With Seton Hall largely listless and shooting below 30-percent from the field as their offense looked out of sync, Xavier was able to hold a 45-25 lead at the half that was hardly challenged to that point.
A 9-2 run to start the second half gave Seton Hall hope at 47-34, but this Xavier group isn’t one that you can just decide to start playing against as they made several key shots and things turned ugly with Kevin Willard and Ish Sanogo picking up technical fouls before the under-12.
A second window of opportunity opened after a bizarre 8-0 “run” including a five-point play was made possible over 20 seconds of game clock but seemingly 20 minutes of real time as the officials tried to sort out some confusion revolving around a Xavier technical.
The Hall trailed 77-67 with 9:17 to play as a result, but it wouldn’t be until the closing minutes when they actually looked like they could pull off a wild comeback.
Following an offensive rebound from Sandro Mamukelashvili (17 pts, 7 rebs) that fed a Myles Powell (30 pts) three, Seton Hall saw itself trailing by just six at 87-81 with 3:35 to play, but would turn the ball over on their next two possessions, squashing their final chance.
Seton Hall’s second team may have won them a morale victory tonight. Mamukelashvili, Myles Cale, and Jordan Walker all logged minutes together for large stretches of the second half and it gave the team a real shot in the arm. That said, it’s also possible that Xavier became naturally complacent with such a large lead while the unusually long stoppages at the scorers table seemed to sap their energy a bit. All said, this certainly gives Willard something to think about going forward regarding how he uses his bench and preventing a sure blowout definitely gives the team a mental boost.
Early turnovers and poor decision making on offense doomed the Hall’s start. The Pirates coughed it up three times over the first eight minutes but also took at least two ill-advised shots and the offense sputtered early and often as a result. Compounded by a barrage of made outside shots on Xavier’s (but mostly Trevon Bluiett’s) behalf, the wheels fell off an offense seemingly based mainly on rhythm and tempo; Seton Hall once again saw themselves shooting below 30-percent for long stretches including 26-percent from the floor in the first half.
Seton Hall’s losing streak has featured a porous first half defense in all four games. 41, 42, 46 & 45 points have been allowed in each of their last four, a number which is apparently only growing. The three games prior? 30, 31 & 26 — that is a stark difference.
The four spot was invisible at times tonight, sort of. Mike Nzei, Ish Sanogo, and Sandro Mamukelashvili combined for just two rebounds and five fouls at the half before Mamukelashvili scored a series of baskets mid-way through the second half with the team down 15-20 — this hot streak ballooned into a whale of a game for the freshman. As a whole, Xavier’s ability to call on someone like Sean O’Mara to back down Angel Delgado and drop a hook shot over him, was a mismatch on the block overall and it allowed the Musketeers to focus more on Angel, especially early.
Xavier is one of the deepest teams in the country — Seton Hall is far from it — and it showed tonight. Chris Mack can go a legitimate nine-deep on his bench and has the luxury of deploying three guys who can man the ‘five’ without any significant talent drop-off. The Hall’s bench was outdone to the tune of 11-2 in the first half but they shined in the second when it was perhaps a bit too late. Xavier’s depth shined the brightest with less than 100-percent Delgado having his hands full against a three-headed dragon tonight.
Quotes from Kevin Willard’s radio interview on AM 570
On the team’s slow start: “I’m dumbfounded. We play harder with more emotion in practice than we do right now to start games. I don’t know why, I’m dumbfounded to be honest with you. Our attitudes are great, we’re working hard in practice. And we come out and we’re just spotting teams and you cant spot the #4 team in the country 20 points. We’ll figure it out.”
On boost from younger guys in second half: “At that point, with Angel I’m going to save him as much as I can possibly save him with the minutes he’s had. I’m not going to grind him. I told Sandro this the other day. I said, ‘I’m frustrated I’m not getting you more minutes’ because he’s been practicing great. It’s like he’s used to what’s going on, the speed of the game, just felt more comfortable. I told him ‘These last 7 or 8 games, I’m going to get you more time because it looks like you’re getting it’. And in practice he’s playing with more confidence. And Jordan [Walker], he’s the one guy that can change the pace of the game at that spot, we just needed a chance of pace. I put Desi out at the four and just spaced the court and those guys really really played hard and well.”
On playing the young guys more down the stretch: “I’m going to go back and I’ve got to really take a look at what lineups moving forward we can help ourselves better offensively at times. Defensively we obviously didn’t get off to a great start either. If we’re not going to be great defensively, maybe we have to be great offensively.”
On Angel Delgado’s health (knee): “I think he’s O.K. physically. He might be a little bit more beat up mentally than he is physically right now. … He’s logged so many minutes and he’s battling so well, for him when you’re down 25 on the road you’re just not going to keep him out there. He wanted to go back in, he was being a great cheerleader but you can’t let him sit ten minutes and put him back in the game, that’s going to kill [inaudible].”
On this being a rough time of year to figure things out: “The biggest thing is, why are we starting the way we’re starting. That’s the biggest thing. We don’t have to try to figure out major stuff, but it’s more or less how we get off to little better starts, get a little more confidence instead of being down 20 and trying to claw back. It’s just hard to do. It’s hard to do when you’re at home when you’re down 10-12 points, it’s really hard to do when you’re down 17 at Georgetown and 24 here.”