Louisville Notebook: “Sometimes we think too much” Seton Hall sputters down the stretch

Wendell Cruz/FinishFirstPhotos
Connect with SHUHoops.com:

Seton Hall hit just three of their last fifteen shots and wilted on offense down the stretch in a disappointing loss to Louisville after leading by as many as nine in the second half.

From tempering expectations, to the Pirates’ woeful three-point shooting, to Taurean Thompson not playing in the second half, we’ve got you covered below.

Five Thoughts

The team was 3-of-18 from three while Myles Powell was 2-of-12, and that has to change. The team is now 316th nationally in three-point percentage, 310th in 3PA:FGA ratio, and 335th in percentage of total points coming from the perimeter. Ouch. If yesterday is to be used as an example, Seton Hall needs to cut out the forced threes and create better opportunities. Ryan McMahon’s open three followed up by a contested shot from the Pirates pretty much summed up the entire game.

As Kevin Willard alluded to, the team needs to find a new source of scoring that isn’t driving to the paint. While the guards could do better at the rim and it seemed like Louisville got a favorable whistle, you can’t always rely on guards driving and winning battles against bigs in the paint. It’s valid to note how Myles Cale and Anthony Nelson are young guys and don’t have a ton of experience here, compared to a junior Khadeen Carrington type, who has gone to the rim countless times. Adding variety to Seton Hall’s attack will help open up better percentage drives.

Mike Nzei (12 pts, 6 rebs, 4 asts) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (10 pts, 6 rebs, 4 blks) had strong games. Seton Hall eventually lost the battle on the glass, but Louisville rebounded as a collective and these guys did a pretty good job defending the post as a whole. At one point, Nzei had hit 14 straight shots dating back to the end of the Hawai’i game a week ago before he missed his baseline dunk in the second half. Sandro could have done even better if it weren’t for foul trouble including a very questionable call in the first half that sidelined him for a bit. The official word is that these guys played so well that they kept Taurean Thompson (4 pts, 6 mins) on the bench for the entire second half — he only played when Sandro was in first half foul trouble.

There is an obvious and expected drop-off in late-game scenarios for this team. Not to excuse execution over the final minutes of games, but I think the fans need to adjust expectations a bit after getting used to what last year’s senior class was capable of for several seasons. For perspective: The team’s current go-to guy by a wide margin was used as a decoy in a lot of late-game scenarios last season while the other four guys on the court this year were on the bench. Willard mentioned in his press conference how there’s no better way for this team to learn what to do down the stretch than to experience it — and that’s what they’re doing right now.

Refocusing expectations. It’s not necessarily because of this result, but it’s important to remember what the goals were coming into the season. If you expected a fourth-straight NCAA appearance, then yes, I would be disappointed too. But for me, this team’s goal was always to hopefully make the NIT while also keeping tabs on player development (Myles Cale, Sandro, Anthony Nelson, etc.) as I see this as a two-year project. Only Mike Nzei departs next summer and gets replaced by seven-foot Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu.

Five Quotes (and one)

Sandro Mamukelashvili on the team’s shot selection: “Everyone who shoots the ball, I have nothing against them. If they think it’s a great shot, I trust my teammates 100-percent. If they want to shoot it and they think it’s a great shot for them, they can take it and I’m going to do my thing and offensive rebound.”

Sandro on losing close games: “I feel like sometimes we think too much. We just have to stay together. It’s hard, we’re a young team. Every time it comes down to the wire, everybody I feel is a little stressed. We just have to chill a little bit, trust each other more. It’s hard, when you lose at the last second it shows how hard you battled for the whole game. It’s the toughest loss to lose at the last seconds.”

Sandro on if Louisville’s offense and good looks came as a surprise: “Good teams are always going to find a way to get better shots … Coach addressed things perfectly. For me, everything he told me, it went like that. From my standpoint, I was ready to play defense how he told me.”

Mike Nzei on difference down the stretch: “The last four minutes, I just felt like we were playing defense but the difference was that they made their shots. There wasn’t much we could really do about it (defensively), they made their last two shots.”

Kevin Willard on Taurean Thompson not playing in the second half: “To be perfectly honest with you, Mike Nzei and Sandro were just playing really well.”

Willard when I asked about the progression of the defense: “Where I think it is, it’s where these guys are understanding what we’re trying to do from a game plan situation. I think they’re really starting to grasp it. We totally changed the way we guard pick-and-rolls for this game than we did the last three, and for these guys to pick it up on a two-day practice week, I was really, really happy. I think finishing defensive plays and finishing rebounds — I thought the offensive rebounds hurt us in the first half — that’s still a work in progress.”