NEWARK, N.J. — This was a game that one would expect a senior-rich Seton Hall to win, or at least put up a stiffer resistance in defeat.
Instead of taking control of a gritty Big East game after the Hall went up 42-32 just two minutes into the second half, it was another senior-laden team in Xavier that got the job done at Prudential Center.
After being doused in “J.P. sucks!” chants from the student section, J.P. Macura took over and scored 18 in the second half and 27 on the day to lead his team to an impressive road win, and a conversely disappointing loss for Seton Hall, who have now dropped three of four.
“The crowd was great, and I thought our energy was great, but you have to give J.P. Macura credit because he really did something in the last four minutes that swung the whole game,” observed Kevin Willard.
“I thought Xavier did a good job of going big and long on us again. I thought they were big and physical. I thought we had some good looks, but you have to give Xavier credit being really physical with us and [they] got into us.”
Macura’s approach to the game is the definition of senior play. Great shooters and adept passers come and go frequently, but his Derrick Gordon-like intangibles are what set him apart from the pack and are an attribute that Xavier edged the Pirates in today.
Just ask the king of tough play, Ismael Sanogo, who scored eight and pulled down five offensive boards in the loss.
“We just had mental lapses, not boxing out, certain plays we let them get going, let J.P. get going,” said Sanogo of what did his team in.
“He’s the X-factor of that team, once he gets going, they’re a very good team.”
Even after coughing up a ten-point cushion, Seton Hall still had plenty of opportunities down the stretch to make up for it, but they could only manage 13 points over the final ten minutes after leading 51-47.
Three key missed free throws, sub-par decision making on offense, just-missed shots — the little things cost the Pirates today during the final quarter of play.
“It’s always disappointing when you play your hardest and you mess up on the little things and that costs you the game,” said an ambassador-like Sanogo, who answered to all media before Khadeen Carrington would finally join him. “It’s our mental toughness, finishing plays off at the end and we’ll be fine.”
Carrington, who shot 0-7 from deep and is now 0-17 from long range (“I’m not going to call it a slump”) since going 12-for-21 against Butler and St. John’s, concurred.
“A few little things. A little box-out here or there. Second chance points, that’s basically it,” said a clearly dejected Carrington. “Mental toughness. Finishing defensive plays. That’s basically the main two [things to work on] right there.”
Interestingly, Sanogo going down with an injury to his right shoulder at the 9:27 mark surely added to the downfall. Sanogo would return during the under-four timeout and said “I had a little scare for a bit, but I’m fine” regarding the injury.
“Ish going out hurt us a lot,” said Willard.
“Ish going out at the time he did really took a little bit out of our energy. Even though Mike [Nzei] did a good job, the way Ish was playing with his energy and his defensive presence stopped us from getting out on the break.”
Taking a look at the big picture, Seton Hall has their worst KenPom rating of the season, have lost three of four, and have their first losing streak since late last January.
They will drop out of the top-25 on Monday and have a week off to think about things before taking on DePaul next Sunday.
“Not at all. Every team goes through a rough stretch,” said Willard.
“Xavier lost two in a row and everyone said it’s the end of that, and Creighton loses by 30 at Xavier and everyone says what’s wrong with them. You’re going to hit a tough stretch in this conference … I have total confidence in where we are, we just need to get back to doing some little things.”
“Well we lost two in a row, so not that well,” assessed Carrington of where his team is at.
“Like you said, we have a bye week, so we can work on things and just get back to ourselves.”