NEWARK — Seton Hall’s failure to execute down the stretch of its 76-73 loss to Michigan State might prove to be a vital learning lesson for the Pirates as the season rolls on.
Leading 71-66 with 2:41 to play after Myles Powell’s (37p, 6r, 6-14 3PT) sixth three-pointer of the night, it looked like the Pirates had overcome their opposition in what was a heavyweight fight worthy of an Elite 8 duel.
KenPom gave the Hall an 87% probability of winning at that point.
But a trio of missed opportunities allowed a savvy Spartans team just enough wiggle room to erase that deficit before the Pirates went 0-for-2 on their last two go-ahead attempts, a Sandro Mamukelashvili stuffed shot under the basket and a Powell turnover.
“I’m just thinking about the couple plays we had down the stretch when we were up five after I missed a free-throw,” said a regretful Powell as he opened up his post-game interviews.
“Me just being a leader and a captain, just thinking about how we could have kept the lead and used more of the shot clock and ran more offense and made them work more on defense instead of putting up quick shots.”
Perhaps caught up in the moment as much as anyone — Myles Powell’s bum left ankle was partially sewn together with adrenaline — it’s understandable that Powell and the team wanted to ride the wave of coordinated chaos that got them to 71-66.
But Powell isn’t cutting himself any slack.
“Me being the leader and the captain, that’s when I’m supposed to bring my team together and tell them ‘Let’s run offense’, try to get them to play defense, get a foul call, use up the shot clock. Little things like that, I know now that they need to hear [it].”
And he didn’t blame the officials, who let both teams play all night long.
“When they’re letting us play the whole game you can’t look for a foul call the last 15-20 seconds. With the ball in my hands and me being the leader and the captain, I could have made a better decision but I’m not going to blame it on the refs.”
“We’re up five with 2:40 to go, and with that group on the floor, we should have done much better with time management. That’s where we lost the game,” added Kevin Willard, after joking that the ‘Mother Seton Miracle Juice’ (for Powell’s ankle) was the biggest difference in the game.
“We got up five and we took three quick shots, shots that were not within the offense, and it ended up giving them fast break opportunities … But I still like the way we executed down the stretch coming out of the timeout.
“I thought Sandro got a great look right in front of the rim, and then even after they missed the free throw, I thought Myles definitely got fouled going to the basket, and he did everything you’re supposed to do. But again, give them a lot of credit, they made some big plays.”
While much of the focus and scrutiny will orbit around the last 2:40 of the game, Seton Hall showed a lot of encouraging signs over the prior 37 minutes and change.
The point guards played efficiently and made some big defensive plays, Myles Cale (12p, 4r, 3-4 3PT) played within himself, and Romaro Gill (8r, 5b) was a fly-swatter around the rim, for starters.
“We brought them down to the wire. We showed them that Seton Hall, we play hard,” said Quincy McKnight (4p, 6a, 4r). “We showed everybody around the country that we play hard and when we step on the floor we’re going to play all 40 minutes.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo also heaped a lot of praise on the Pirates’ doorstep.
“We just beat or would have lost to a top-ten team in the country,” said Izzo. “We’ve played a couple teams and we’re going to play a couple more– they didn’t take a backseat to anybody that I saw (at the Champions Classic), they’re going to be good.”
“It was fun. I’m going to go back, and I’m looking forward to watching the tape and I’m looking forward to going back to work with this team,” said a positive Willard.
“Would we like to have won it? Absolutely, but we’ll get better from it and we’ll improve from it.”