Greenville, S.C. — Thirteen years removed, Andre Barrett, Kelly Whitney and that band of Pirates still remain as the last Seton Hall group to have won an NCAA tournament game.
But that grim reality shouldn’t take away from the unprecedented success that Kevin Willard and the 2014 recruiting class has brought to South Orange.
Remember: While Louis Orr did bring his teams to two NCAA tournaments, including a win, but consecutive at-large bids and a Big East title to boot hasn’t been achieved since 1993-94.
On a smaller scale, this team was an unknown commodity in the wake of Isaiah Whitehead’s departure and an NCAA appearance was seen as a best-case scenario.
Well, despite the overwhelming disappointment, that feel-good scenario actually came true.
Given the current state of affairs, seems hard to believe, right?
“It’s always going to end. It’s always difficult when it ends,” said an emotional Kevin Willard just minutes after his team’s 77-71 loss to Arkansas.
“I think this group of guys, this team, a lot of people doubted what this team could do, what they can get, especially when Z went to the draft. I think every one of these kids stepped up, improved their game.”
“A lot of people thought we were going to win 14, 15 games,” reflected Khadeen Carrington.
“That’s all I can think about. We had 21 wins, a lot of people didn’t think we were going to make it this far. That was all motivation for us, we used it as fuel.”
Now, consecutive trips to the Dance may have altered the barometer of success in South Orange from simply making it, to the expectation of advancing.
Thinking back to the late Bobby Gonzalez and early Willard era, it was hard to even grasp making the NCAA tournament let alone winning a game there or making it in two consecutive seasons.
Now, anything less than an NCAA bid seems a bit empty.
That change in expectations will maintain a level of disappointment among Seton Hall fans — always changing expectations is a constant among fan bases — but digging deep to remember the darker years and inserting this new-found plateau of success into the bigger picture should be key to maintaining a positive outlook.
“It’s always difficult when it ends. But, man, I’m super proud of where these guys have brought this program and getting back to the tournament, back-to-back, for the first time since ’93 and ’94,” said Willard, before closing his final press conference of the season.
“I like the direction that these guys are going, and we’ll learn from this and we’ll bounce back. That’s kind of what we’ve always done.”
Featured photo is courtesy of Joey Khan/The Setonian