HALLelujah: Seton Hall ends 26-year Villanova drought, writing their own history

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PHILADELPHIA (Pa.) — In sports and in life, there are some things that seem once in a lifetime.

For many, many Seton Hall fans — a road win over Villanova was one of them.

If you are even old enough to have witnessed one, of course.

After 26 years and 17 empty trips to Philadelphia filled with lopsided final scores, Seton Hall is finally coming home with a win.

No. 12 Seton Hall poured in 43 second half points — including 12 from Sandro Mamukelashvili (17p, 8r, 2b) — en route to a historic 70-64 road win over No. 10 Villanova that gives the Pirates a three-game lead in the Big East.

Trailing 31-27 at the break after getting bogged down in a methodical half court battle that yielded just one Seton Hall field goal over the final 7:50 of the first half, a Myles Powell (19p, 3r) three that put him past Jeremy Hazell into first for all-time makes got a big second half started.

Powell was given the game ball post-game, but he had no idea that he had set the record.

Follow-up threes from Jared Rhoden (9p, 11r) and Mamukelashvili reinforced a strong start in stark contrast to last year’s trip to Philly that saw the game quickly get away from the Pirates after the half.

Playing neck-and-neck in a heavyweight fight that didn’t see a run bigger than eight points, it looked like Seton Hall was going to miss a golden opportunity when Powell picked up his fourth foul, an offensive, with over nine minutes to play and the Pirates leading just 46-45.

But against all odds, Seton Hall was able to hang on tight.

“That’s what makes them a great team. It’s not just Myles Powell,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.

“We tried to shut him down a little bit and when you do that other guys get loose. When [Quincy] McKnight was in the game, he was outstanding. Outstanding.”

“When he [Powell] went out, the two games against Maryland and Florida A&M. We didn’t have Sandro. The biggest difference now is– I’ve always said, Sandro is my security blanket. I had so much confidence in that group because Sandro was out there,” said Kevin Willard of Powell’s fourth foul.

“It just shows you what type of player and person Myles Powell is. The whole time, he was calling plays and telling guys what to do. It’s just the type of leadership that he has, he has such great leadership at all times. He was instrumental in how that went even though he wasn’t out there.”

While Seton Hall nation was holding its breath, Powell’s confidence didn’t waver.

“I felt like we were going to win the game. Me coming out, I stood up and I said this should be our best defensive group right here,” said Powell.

“I never lack confidence and that’s the best part about this group: just like they have confidence in me, I have confidence in them.”

McKnight and Sandro combined for 11 points in 3.5 minutes after Powell went to the bench, successfully holding down the fort long enough for the Trenton native to check back in and conjure his inner Kemba Walker a la a step-back jumper from the wing that put the visitors up 59-53 with 3:27 to play.

After seizing the moment, Powell embraced the moment with a smile seemingly stretching from ear-to-ear, skipping back down the court after the shot, soaking it all in.

Following up on stout defense down the stretch — Villanova scored just one bucket between 3:00 and :30 — and showing little sign of panic, Seton Hall sank nine free throws in ten attempts over the final minute to send Wildcat fans streaming for the exits as chants of “Let’s go Pirates!” grew louder and louder.

Drought over.

“You guys know me, if we had lost. We’ve got cheesesteaks [ready] on the bus. It would have been 27 years and eventually it might have been 28 years,” deflected Willard about the history surrounding today’s win.

“It’s more about this team and living in the present. It’s more important right now about where we are in the standings, where we are in seeding. Everyone always talks about ‘89– [but] it’s all about these kids.”

While the history provides context, color, theatre, and emotion to the forty minutes played on the court, Willard is right.

This team still has a tough seven-game stretch to take home their first regular season title since 1993.

And they have plenty to prove in the N.C.A.A. tournament — it seems like even a Sweet Sixteen berth would be a let-down.

“Our confidence is through the roof right now,” said Powell.

“That started when my guys got that win against Maryland without me. Me getting that concussion was the best thing that happened to this team. Ever since then, everybody has been stepping up, doing whatever we need them to do.”

While it’s undeniable that today’s win narrows the gap between 2019-20 and 1992-93, 1988-89 — this team is writing their own history. Their own story.

They’re making 2019-20 as the season that is going to be cited for many years to come.

“He [Myles] just passed the all-time three-point record. This is six straight road wins. I’m more concerned about this team right now and what they’re doing,” continued Willard.

“I love their work ethic. I loved their focus yesterday. They were loose, but they were focused.

“So I think more than anything, I’m just living in this moment and enjoying being able to coach him [Myles] and coach this group.”

As this season barrels toward March, it seems those moments just keep getting better and better.