NEWARK (N.J.) — Coming off the ultimate high of taking down Villanova on the road, No. 10 Seton Hall was grounded in an 87-82 loss to No. 23 Creighton.
Faced with renewed expectations of a potential two-seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament, an illness-ridden Seton Hall couldn’t get the job done against the free-flowing Bluejays offense that torched them for a season-high — by a wide margin — 87 points allowed.
It looked like the Pirates had turned a corner after a Sandro Mamukelashvili (13p, 6r) dunk put them up 66-62 at the under-eight, but Sandro’s fourth foul invoked an 11-2 run from Creighton that included Sandro’s fifth foul and four turnovers over a four-minute stretch.
Seton Hall was able to steal the momentum back and cut the deficit to 75-74 with 78 seconds left but a defensive mix-up under their own basket allowed a wide-open, back-breaking Denzel Mahoney three that effectively sealed the deal.
While Myles Powell (12p, 3-16 fg, 1-11 3pt) had his worst pure shooting nights in a long time, it was encouraging that Sandro, Quincy McKnight (20p, 6a), Romaro Gill (13p, 7r) & Co. were able to pick up the slack offensively.
According to Kevin Willard and backed up by McKnight, the team was depleted in practice due to four guys having the flu and reserve center Darnell Brodie hospitalized — he also missed the Villanova game — due to potential mono.
Potentially ominous foreshadowing, Creighton’s Greg McDermott highlighted the fickle nature of life in the 2019-20 Big East.
“In this league it’s really fragile. Anything can happen and you’re a sprained ankle or the flu away from a three-game losing streak.”
When asked who on the team was sick: “Name it. Jared [Rhoden] didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday, Tyrese [Samuel] didn’t practice, Darnell’s [Brodie] in the hospital, Taurean’s [Thompson] sick,” said Willard of the casualties.
“I think Darnell might have mono, we’re not sure yet, and Sandro didn’t practice on Monday. All flu.”
Granted half the team wasn’t 100-percent, it was apparent that Creighton was the only Big East opponent that Seton Hall hadn’t faced yet.
They displayed flashes of high-tempo offense, beat Seton Hall’s first defender time after time, hit the offensive glass at a decent rate, and Ty-Shon Alexander was 4-of-8 from the perimeter — an all-around impressive showing from the ranked visitors.
“Watching them throughout the year, I’ve always thought, of everyone in the conference, they were going to be the one team [to give us trouble] because of their guard play,” said Willard
“To hold Mitch Ballock 0-for-7 And you still give up 87 points, it tells you how good they can be.”
Tonight was a classic case of how much was this Seton Hall not playing great defense and how much was it Creighton just executing.
The answer: a little bit of both.
“I think they’re really good and really tough, and there’s a reason why they average 77 points a game in conference play,” said Willard, not picking a side.
“I thought our defense was not where it usually is or should be. I think they’re really good offensively, and I don’t think we played really well defensively.”
Perhaps the most telling difference when compared to Saturday’s upset of Villanova was the style of play. Methodical half-court valued possessions versus a back-and-forth up-tempo game where no lead was safe.
A versatile team that has seen a lot of different style opponents over the season, Seton Hall just couldn’t cope tonight with wave after wave of Creighton attacks.
“I didn’t do a very good job of getting these guys ready for the type of pace — it’s such a different pace than Villanova. … We had a hard time getting in transition defense,” admitted Willard.
Looking ahead, Seton Hall will need to win two of their next three to maintain their three-seed status and will have the power of Fox’s Brian Custer on their side next Wednesday when they try to snap their two-game home losing streak following a Saturday night trip to Providence.