Magical season ends on sour note for Seton Hall

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DENVER – Midnight struck — literally and figuratively — on a program-reviving Seton Hall season in a humbling 68-52 defeat at the hands of Gonzaga late last night at the Pepsi Center.

As clocks all across northern New Jersey inched toward midnight local time, Seton Hall (25-9, 12-16) crept ever-closer to bowing out of the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive time, though 10 years removed from their thrashing at the hands of Wichita State in 2006.

The worst offensive performance all season from both their leading scorer and the team as a whole, Seton Hall was ultimately crippled by an eight-plus minute field goal drought to close the first half, in turn digging themselves a 10-point deep hole they couldn’t recover from.

Whether it was the mile-high altitude that didn’t favor Seton Hall, unfavorable officiating, an unstoppable Domantas Sabonis, or most importantly a Pirate offense that ran aground early and often, it appeared the ‘time was now’ for this team to end what irrevocably was a magical two months and season as a whole.

But a first round exit is still a punch to the gut.

It always is, no matter how well a team performs prior to Selection Sunday.

“It can only get better from this year [on],” said a glossy-eyed Isaiah Whitehead, who spoke as if he plans to return next season before saying he has a decision to make.

“We had an amazing year, we won the Big East Championship. There’s not a lot of sophomores that actually did that, to win a Big East championship with a group of sophomores and one senior.”

“It’s been an amazing year,” said lone senior Derrick Gordon, who had his head in his hands as the final seconds ticked off the Pepsi Center clock, as if not looking could extend the collegiate career of a winner.

“My senior year, finishing out the way we did, [but I] would have wished things went a lot better tonight … [but] I can’t look down at it.”

Picked in the bottom tier of the Big East pre-season, many Seton Hall fans will consider this year a success — and rightly so. A ‘Cinderella’ title would have probably required a Sweet 16 berth, but most fans and media did not see this sort of success coming; a bubble team come March was the realistic goal.

“The only one that is surprised is you guys,” said Whitehead when asked by media about this year being a shock. “We worked really hard in the summer and we knew that we’d have a great team this year.”

Looking toward next year, the level of turbulence that will be felt this off-season appears to have a wide variance, and it starts with Whitehead.

“We’ve got a tough squad,” continued Isaiah. “If you look at it, we’re all sophomores, we all return except Derrick [Gordon] but we add some nice pieces, so it should be a good year.”

This could just be comforting talk from Whitehead, who may turn out to be the linchpin that holds this class of rising juniors together to address what is surely unfinished business for a group that pulled up short on the ultimate stage.

Minutes after telling media as he sat in front of his Pepsi Center locker that the goal next year is “just getting back here”, Whitehead reaffirmed the obvious: exploring professional options is very much on the table despite not being projected as an NBA draft pick on multiple mock draft sites.

“I’ve got to sit down and think about what’s best for me,” he said. “That’s to be determined when I sit down with my mom, whenever the deadline is for the draft, just sit down and talk to her about what’s best for me next year.”

Whitehead’s uncertain outlook coupled with a first round loss that was processed like a horse pill somewhat poisons the well, though hopefully only momentarily — until the scope of what transpired from November to March sets in.

It was a season with plenty of “first time in…” prefixes that raised the bar to levels that date back 15-plus years in the annals of Hall hoops history.

“It’s been an unbelievable year with this group, a really young group,” said Whitehead.  “We can only look at the future.”

As of now, that future is waiting. Waiting for him to pull the trigger, one way or the other. And seven long months of waiting for the balls to be rolled out on another season.

For Seton Hall fans, the hope is that just a little bit more patience will yield more progressive results in 2016-17.

Because as far as I see it, there’s unfinished business.

  • Larry Karg

    Welcome back to South Orange, Isaiah. That’s a silver lining I am very happy to accept from last bight’s debacle. And here’s hoping Ish can bounce back without needing surgery.

    • Dislocated, will have MRI. Dude is a warrior. More on this soon.

  • LBP

    Thanks Chris for a fun year. Hope you choose to return :-)– this is a great board and made the Season better.
    As for IW, I am sure that he and his family will make the right choice– if he chooses to leave he was was a pleasure to watch and will rank as one of the Hall’s “special Players’.
    Although playing only one year, and having been a part of two other programs, I am proud to claim DG as one of ours and a “Seton Hall” Guy. Too bad he will not be back but thankful to have watched him play.
    The Team still has growing to do –but after the first Creighton game, I can not question its desire and effort. I liked the growth of Willard and believe he is a fine representative of Seton Hall.
    Just going to end the year by rooting the Big East home–although I have a bit less money to do so.

    • Matty P

      I second that thank you to you Chris. With the season ending one of the things that came into my mind is what the heck am I going to do until next November without SHU basketball and this board.
      Completely agree about Gordon. I think he’s one of the turning points for the program and makes me wonder if we’d even be in this position without him. After that Creighton game he sat down with this young group and they’ve been different ever since.
      Willard has absolutely grown from this season and I think he took the past seasons as a lesson and that he’s got to be a little tougher with the players. Hopefully he learns from this first time experience at the tournament and can figure out how to get the team to the next level in future seasons.
      As you said let’s go Big East. Hope the remaining teams make big runs to help force people to give the Big East more credit.

    • I’m testing the waters…. I will update later, LOL

      Will surely be an interesting off-season. Was already thinking about the Orlando Classic tournament this morning.

      Just to be clear, last night had nothing to do with effort, in my opinion. Gonzaga better X’s and O’s + Hall’s failure to adjust

      • Matty P

        Decided to look up the field and happened to come across an old post from here. Looks like there’s a number of good teams and a chance for revenge. 2016 Orlando Classic Teams: Gonzaga, Iowa St, Miami, Florida, Stanford, Seton Hall, Indiana St, & Quinnpiac

      • LBP

        Chris –As I am sure my brothers Fishjam ; Vin Bick ;PiratesPadre; MattyP; Andrew and our Crew will tell you –if Ur Star shoots 4for 25 you just not Gona win– Gonzaga not that good and did not do what Middle Tenn did to MSU — Seton Hall lost and Gonzaga was the beneficiary– it will leave a scar but Hall will live — hope IW and You make the right choice — we have renewed pride and that is great

  • Matty P

    The only positive is that the team is young and got their first taste of success this season and the opportunity to see what it’s going to take to get to the tournament and an idea of the amount of work it will take to get past the first round. I don’t see Whitehead leaving after his poor performance which should help this team and his eventual draft stock for next year. I think with an offseason of development and the addition of Thomas will take them back into the tournament and get at least a first round win.

  • Joe Schmoe

    A fantastic season that exceeded expectations by far. These kids worked hard, played as a team, they are growing together, And accomplished a great deal this year. The NCAA tournament is an entirely different animal than the BIG East regular season & tournament. Next year they’ll have the experience, and making the tournament will be the expectation not the accomplishment. Great work guys, great work coach, great work to the press and contributors to this site. A year to remember. Looking forward to next season and Myles Powell.

  • Andrew Herbst

    We have so much to be proud of this year. We came so far and exceeded all expectations. We can build off the BE Tournament champion and learn from it next year. We will only get better next year with experience. This was a special year that I will always remember. I can’t wait for next year with our starting 5 gaining more experience and also Myles Powell. He will really help take the pressure of Isiash, Khadeem, and Desi. GO PIRATES.

    • Jeremie Lipton

      Mark Few always revolts against letting one game define a great season. Good post and good luck next year. I look forward to watching you guys in the future.

      • Andrew Herbst

        Thanks so much Jerome. I appreciate the kind words. Best of luck to your Zags against Utah. I’ve been admiring your program for many years.

      • Thanks for your input over the last few days Jeremie. Didn’t really have any interactions with Gonzaga fans other than a few guys talking about Sabonis as I was walking off of floor. I told them what they already knew: “He’s a beast!” and they agreed.

        Seems like you guys have a nice internet presence. Other Seton Hall writers also saw a noticeable impact from Gonzaga-related/scouting stories since Selection Sunday.

      • ThePirateFan

        Very well worded!

  • shu_92

    This is a tough Friday at work.
    Seton Hall was just ice cold last night and there was nothing they could do to shoot themselves out of it. I thought at the 4:30 mark when Delgado fouled out and Sanogo got hurt that they should of put Desi at center and just went to an all-out press in desperation mode but that probably wouldn’t of helped either. Just wasn’t their night.
    Thanks Chris for your coverage all year, really top notch analysis and coverage.

    • I see your point but Nzei probsably a better option at center, though if he was isolated w/ Sabonis, that’s an easy two points.

      Thank you! Has been a wild ride. Reinvigorating after a real meat-grinder of a season last year.

  • jfp1992

    I know I’m biased, but I can’t help but blame the flat play on factors beyond their control:

    Denver game, Mountain Time Zone: they never came close to travelling that far for a game this year. They never played in that time zone.

    The latest game of the day: which became ridiculously late for an EST team. 11p EST start for The Pirates. An 8p start if you are Gonzaga.

    High altitude: a factor for both teams, but a HUGE factor when considering the above.

    • KW had some very interesting in-game comments about this. Will include in notebook shortly.

  • Louie Dee


  • VinBick

    First, a huge thank you to Chris for this board, and all of your insight throughout this grand season. If anyone suggested a 25-9 record for this Pirate team at the beginning of the season, everyone would be happy to accept it. Kudos to Coach Willard and his staff for leading the charge through the tough Big East challenges. I was a big skeptic of Kevin’s ability before the season. Hope the administration does all it can to keep our coach for the long haul, so he can continue to build on this successful season.

    To all of the pirate players who performed so well, thanks. Hold your heads up high as you have proven to be a cut above your peers in every respect. Hope IW reaches out to Dunn at Providence before he tries to jump to the NBA.

    It was fun bantering with fellow fans here all season. Talk to you next season from the Jersey Shore. Go Pirates!

    • selkirk

      Still not holding our breath, Vin!

    • Thank you for the kind words Vin.

  • shufaninva

    Really dragging today. It’s been a rough day and several people (including my intern lol) have told me to just go home.
    What a year. I thought we would be talking about who our new head coach would be come this time of year….but thank god the season went the other way. I have had so much joy and smiling, and screaming, and I even poured a bottle of bubbly over my head after the BE Final. I feel blessed as a sports fan to have gone through this.
    I hope we get another year of the super Sophs. As super Juniors, it could be a fun ride.
    No doubt this year will help recruiting.

    Hard not to feel for Gordon. He is the one guy in that rotation that definitely won’t be here next year. I wish him luck and I hope he finds himself in a leadership position someday, because whatever company that would be with would be lucky to have him. In a way, he saved us as a program. At least this chapter of our program. I know it’s way too early to say, and I don’t know what his career aspirations are, but I can see him filling Sha’s role someday if Sha, (as he deserves) gets a head coach gig someday. He’s a born leader and as a NJ guy, could really help with recruiting. We will miss you so much Gordon!!! Hope to see you again.

    I just love these guys so much. It’s so different than rooting for a professional sports team. I work at a hs, and these kids are only a year or two older than my students. I love seeing how they grow up and develop as young men. It’s way better than the bond you have with the professional teams you root for. I am so proud of these guys and I love them so much.

    Hazard Zet Forward Pirates. Hazard Zet Forward.

    • Didn’t have to work today (obviously), was up until around 5am et after being up for over 24 hours. Still, I slept for only about 4 hours, had bad SHU-related dreams and cold sweats. Brutal.

      Really tough to see DG torn up last night. Head in hands on the bench, KW in a squat giving him a heart-to-heart. In locker room post-game, was faced toward his locker head down and was on his phone. I don’t believe any media approached him; mutual respect (he was at the presser anyway).

      While his on-court presence will certainly be missed, it is his off-court impact that is irreplaceable. All things equal, I see him as a life preserver that kept this young team and coach from sinking and got them to levels they haven’t seen before that surely has added experience.

      Just a matter if that exp will be able to be utilized next season.

  • fouline

    It was a great year for the program. And last night’s loss can’t change that. But the seeds of our demise were always there: Willard&Company decided to ride Whitehead. And he performed above and beyond expectations. It was a mutually beneficial relationship – Whitehead wanted the NBA and Willard wanted to keep his job. It worked for most of the season. There were some close calls when Whitehead wasn’t playing well. But the team persisted. And defined a style of play that disrupted opponents that played more formal games. But we finally came up against a team that wasn’t going to be disrupted… That had solid players and a terrific coach and they took us apart by taking Whitehead out of his game. A lot of blame has been put on Whitehead. But the real blame is on the coach. He had no plan B when he saw Whitehead was not having a good night. It was the same old Willard that we questioned over that last 5 years. Some thing never change. And they should.

    • shufaninva

      Well to be fair, plan B usually is Carrington having a hot hand, and that wasn’t there either.

    • KW specifically addressed this in his presser last night. Going to post a wrap-up notebook a little later that includes observations/quotes I haven’t used yet.

      • fouline

        Thanks, Chris. As you continue to do a great job…

  • WilponsStinkLessNow

    Btw, did you guys notice when Delgado fouled out he flashed a thumbs up to the ref and said to him “good job.” I thought that was hilarious. There was a lot that went wrong last not, but the officiating certainly did not help. I’m glad Willard blew up. I hope he got his money’s worth.

    • Yep, saw that. Surprised he/SHU didn’t get hit with something (team technical?)

    • Joe Schmoe

      An analyst had stated pre-game that he though SHU was going to have whistle problems last night. Basically saying the young team with no NCAA experience is going to get a taste of what playing in the tourney is like.

  • Mike

    The toughest part about this one is that we know the Pirates are capable of so much better. If the Hall played a great game, even just their average game and simply got beat by a better team, I really wouldn’t have been all that disappointed. And who knows, maybe they’d have lost anyway. But it’s a lot easier to go down when you go down with your best.

    • Would have been a 1 poss game if SH played up to their ability. That’s how impressive Gonzaga was.

  • shufaninva

    Good lord MTenn st up on MSU. If they upset the Spartains I’m going to throw up.

    • Matty P

      1 min of game time left with MTenn up by 3 and with the ball. If they win this is going to be a real heart breaker that we struggled so much last night. Could have set up a path to make it to the elite 8.

      • Matty P

        Well losing yesterday really hurts now. Missed a golden opportunity to go extremely deep into the tournament.

  • Andrew Herbst

    I can’t believe Michigan St lost. It makes me feel even worse about our loss. Our region would have been much easier.

    • Matty P

      It would’ve been the perfect opportunity to make it to the elite 8 with a matchup against #1 seed Virginia. Plus with the way this tournament is going who knows who will make it. Upsets all over the place.

      • Andrew Herbst

        Yep it’s such a wide open tourney. All we can do now is use this as motivation for next year.

  • Matt

    First off a big thank you to Chris. You have done a great job. And to anyone who hasn’t placed a contribution I recommend you do if possible.I don’t know where I would have gone without this site, I guess a forum where everyone talks. I’m happy to help Chris out a little bit.

    To my fellow fans, what a year. Horrible game,the clock struck 12 and we were back to scrubbing toilets. However, I am so happy with the direction of this program. Our stock is only rising. I was able to get on with Mike Francesa and comment on the season thanking Whitehead and hoping him the best either way he chooses because without him where are we? Also to Gordon for transferring a big help all year. I’m excited for next season as you all are too.

    Cheers to the Pirates and let the good times roll. As Jerry here says, Why not us?

    • Thank you Matt, sincerely. Outside of the generous donations around the Big East Tournament, I’ve received a few over the past couple days.

      I will get a post up on this topic in the coming days. My travel expenses were around $1000 — boarding a flight home from Denver in a few minutes.

  • Andrew Herbst

    Thanks to Chris for everything this year. He has made Shuhoops such an awesome place to come to talk Pirate basketball. He has done an awesome job.

  • Hallbuster

    Great job Chris! Great year

  • ThePirateFan

    Couldn’t catch a break last night. Between Gonzaga seemingly not missing any open look, the refs being very different than we’ve come to expect from big east officiating (to put it nicely), the obviously tough draw in terms of seed, match-up, AND location, and then the game being pushed back an hour there were many factors out of the Pirates’ control that were detriments. Gonzaga earned their advancement, but it shouldn’t have been so easy for them. This story could easily have been different.

    And it’s a shame. Fans across the country would’ve loves the chance to know this team better. This is a special group. The slew of sophomores, Gordon making the tourney 3 times, Whitehead’s talent, Desi’s and Ish’s athleticism, Angel’s fire, Carrington’s ability to finish, and Willard’s beautiful bald head are responsible for possibly the most exciting sports season I’ve ever seen.

    It’ll be fun to speculate regarding Whitehead’s future, too. I’d been leaning towards him returning BC his decision-making would be too risky for a team to spend a pick on, and it still is to a lesser extent. But his defense was great, his leadership was great, his intensity was great, his size is great, his ability to beat his man was great, and his 3 point shooting was great in conference play despite questionable selection. And then there’s family need (of which I’d be foolish to speculate on), and I’d imagine only an injury plagued junior year could hurt his stock, but he may have shown enough.

  • Jersey Jerry

    Hey, if I told U back in October that ‘da Hall would finish the season 25-9, take home the FIRST BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE in 23 years, and GO DANCING for the first time in 10 years, well, U’all would have thought I was CRAZY!!!!

    Let’s just bask in ‘da glory of this season and look forward to next years … it’s been a GR8 year (yeah, we could have done better) however, we should ALL be thankful and proud of what ‘da Kids from ‘da Hall accomplished!!! Major steps taken and the future looks so bright we’re ALL gonna need shades!!! GO HALL, the best is yet to come!

  • 11yearplan

    Started having computer problems when the winning streak started. My son fixed it two days before the NCAA’s.

    The team grew up before our eyes. Reminded me of the 87-88 season. First time in the NCAA, refs calling a different game than what they call in the BE, playing out west and losing to a beatable team. Several steps forward and one step back.

    Good challenges await: everyone knows us, target on our back and higher expectations. I believe positive results will follow. 2nd year of law school is significantly easier than 1st year and this should allow Anderson to attend more practices and pick up playing time. If Miles Carter does what Ish did we will have the size and depth we need in the front court. Can’t wait to see Powell, Stofer and Singh knocking down 3’s and what that does for Dino’s drive to the hoop and maybe his ability to play the point.

    Glad to see the fire Coach Willard/hire Coach Hurley chants have stopped. Our Coach has earned a new contract, assuming this one has expired.

    Chris: amazing job as always. Thank you so much for keeping us informed.

    Next season can’t come soon enough.

  • Coach Mike

    Chris- What a great job you do! Thank you from all of us. I made my donation tonite and urge all of you to do the same. Ya know, a coach is a good coach if he has good players and a bad coach if he doesn’t. Give Coach Willard credit for going out and getting good players. And yes what a blessing to have Derrick Gordon this year. And what a bad time to have a ‘clunker’ in Denver. That being said, as bad as they played, if they had made their foul shots it would have been a different game as they were only down six with about 4 or5 minutes to go. 8 for 21 from the line…awful. But as many have said, its a season that exceeded expectations.