Seton Hall rode a career night from Myles Powell to outlast Grand Canyon 82-75 in the first round of the Wooden Legacy late on Thursday night.
The Pirates snapped a two-game Thanksgiving Day losing streak by coming up big down the stretch and of course relying on the dominant all-around performance from Powell (40 pts, 7 rebs, 4 asts), who set a new career high.
As we’ve seen in prior games, Seton Hall got off to a strong start at 18-10 by channeling energy through a multi-look defense that was able to disrupt Grand Canyon early.
But a combination of a disjointed second team that led to ten first half turnovers and missed free throws would hinder an impressive all-around performance from Myles Powell, who scored in every way imaginable in the first half alone.
Following a refreshing start to the second half, Grand Canyon crept within 53-51 after a seven-minute Seton Hall field goal drought and Sandro Mamukelashvili’s (5 pts, 8 rebs) fourth foul turned the momentum heading into the under-12 timeout.
But a strong cameo from Taurean Thompson (12 pts, 2 rebs), clutch rebounding down the stretch, and a big-time Powell three from an offensive rebound to go up 76-75 for good sealed the deal.
Where would Seton Hall be without Myles Powell? Since that is too dark to thing about, let’s instead admire the multitude of ways in which he scored against Grand Canyon — in the first half alone. He deflected a pass and scored in the backcourt. A pump-fake, side-step three. A long arcing three. Mid-range pull-up on his defender. Coast-to-coast drive to the hoop. That was fun to watch and it was Seton Hall’s first forty-point scorer since Khadeen Carrington against Creighton two years ago.
Taurean Thompson was a contributor. And that phrase is not being used lightly, considering what he has shown so far this year. Romaro Gill was the first forward off the bench again tonight, but it looks like Thompson may have won back some support after playing a key role tonight, primarily when Sandro went down with four fouls mid-way through the second half. Thompson still made a few poor decisions including that ill-advised three at 69-63 which prompted a GCU run, but this is a huge platform to build upon — see what the key was below.
This team continues to look best when the defense is clicking. When the offense looked stagnant and dysfunctional tonight, it seemed to coincide with when Grand Canyon was making shots. But when Seton Hall was making an impact via their three-quarters court press and getting strong, subtle defensive plays from Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, and Thompson, the offense seemed to just flow smoother. We even witness a few court slaps from McKnight, who hinted as much at media day, saying he wants to emulate Khadeen Carrington and the guys who came before him.
Quotes from Kevin Willard (courtesy of AM970)
Reaction to the win: “I just got one of the best Christmas presents I’ve gotten in awhile — I got to see Desi (Rodirguez) and Angel (Delgado) after the game … I love the way we bounced back and fought — we didn’t play well the other night. These guys, to their credit they really bounced back and fought back. … Overall, when we lost the lead we didn’t get panicked. Sandro has a huge offensive rebound, finding Myles for the three. Those are the kind of plays you need to make to win games. Those are winning plays.”
On Taurean Thompson’s strong night after Sandro’s fourth foul: “We switched up what we did with Taurean. I was trying to get him to guard the five man and it just doesn’t work. What we did, he actually guards the ball pretty decently, he has long arms and can block shots. We put him at the four spot and have Mike (Nzei) at the five when he’s in and it really simplified what our defensive schemes are. … It made it much easier for him to relax and he didn’t have to worry about what he’s doing in the pick-and-roll, it simplified it.”
On Powell bouncing back: “I talked to Myles after the Saint Louis game. I said ‘Myles you can’t play one way in practice and come out and play a different way in a game. You’re the most dominant player I’ve seen in practice in a long time.’ You can’t just come out and stand around and not try to be the best player.’
“I thought he came out and he was aggressive and he tried to be the best player on the court, which obviously he was. And he played that way from the start. That’s the way he plays in practice, that’s what we see everyday in practice. … He just has to play the way he plays in practice and he’ll do that (40 points). It’s a mindset for him that he has to be that engaged on the offensive end and the defensive end — it was a complete game for him an I think the other night, they face-guarded him … and he didn’t work to get open (because of the double team).”
On Quincy McKnight’s performance, defensively: “Quincy — he’s starting to get a little more comfortable. He’s so valuable on the defensive end, he does so many good things. I told him, ‘just concentrate on continuing to be our rock defensively.’ He works really hard. I thought Myles Cale defensively, he made one mistake all night. The rest of the night he was really, really good and worked hard.”
On playing Utah/Hawaii at 11:30ET Friday in the late game: “What do you mean late game? I thought we played the first game. It’s great, we fly out six hours to play on ESPN, and we’re on the Internet. My wife isn’t even listening right now. It’s 11:15 at home on Thanksgiving. Our fans are either passed out from turkey or passed out from something else. It’s 11:30ET? Oh great. I don’t know, that’s a lot of cups of coffee for me.”