Notebook: Seton Hall crushed by No. 2 Villanova in anti-climactic 92-70 loss

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NEWARK — Seton Hall ran out of steam and was then steamrolled by No. 2 Villanova in front of a record crowd at Prudential Center that wanted a repeat of last year’s Big East Tournament final.

An 11-1 run into the halftime break that escalated into a 22-1 Wildcats stampede was about all she wrote as Seton Hall didn’t have the infinite juice required to overturn a 20-point deficit early in the second half against the defending national champions.

Jalen Brunson (22 pts, 10 asts) didn’t miss from the floor and was instrumental during the run while Seton Hall’s defense appeared to wilt under the intense pressure, culminating in an apparent benching of Desi Rodriguez at the under-12 media timeout in the second half. 

Unlike Seton Hall’s whipping at the Pavilion last month, it appeared they had the fight on the offensive end to try to mount a comeback in the second half but just couldn’t buckle down defensively with so much work to do.

All that and more below…

Five thoughts

Villanova’s 22-1 run was the story of the game, and it was orchestrated by Jalen Brunson. While early half court defense prevented Seton Hall from really building a substantial foothold, Villanova’s run that spanned on both sides of the half changed the game in a heartbeat and was obviously the story. Brunson scored or assisted on 21 of those 22 points, leaving Willard saying post-game that he “flipped a switch.”

Seton Hall’s defense was not up to the challenge today. Sure, Villanova made them look worse by hitting a barrage of shots that a lot of other teams probably wouldn’t have, but it seemed like a Wildcats shoot-a-round at times with how easy they were able to get an open look compared to the Hall. This culminating in what seemed like a benching of Desi Rodriguez after I saw him going back and forth with Willard heading into the under-12 following a missed defensive assignment; he did not see the court again.

It’s probably harsh to point at not enough touches for Angel Delgado today. He had 11 points and six boards at the half after being dominant at times, but the Hall had to work so hard just to get him solid looks within the paint. They also turned the ball over two or three times (in the first half) trying to do so whether it was an errant pass or one that Delgado lost out of bounds himself. Jay Wright said post-game that he is the best rebounder in the country and that his team did well to shut Delgado down considering they were without Darryl Reynolds.

The Pirates’ offense was largely solid, but they were missing an extra punch from their second-tier guys. Myles Powell (8 pts, 3-11 fg) was 1-for-9 from deep and had a few high percentage looks early on while Desi Rodriguez (8 pts) wasn’t at his best offensively and registered just one rebound. Elsewhere, Seton Hall didn’t get anything at the four-spot: Mike Nzei and Ish Sanogo combined for 2 points and 2 boards in 36 minutes, though Madison Jones (11 pts, 4 asts, 4 rebs) played well and turned it over just once.

The atmosphere was great… for 18 minutes. The upper bowl sidelines were packed, albeit with mostly Villanova fans, and the endzones were about 70-percent full while the lower bowl was crammed with about 90-percent Seton Hall blue. The Rock was absolutely rocking for large stretches of the first half including the Hall’s early 9-3 surge as well as the back-to-back threes that preceded Villanova’s crippling run. Noise reached levels I had not witnessed before in Newark.

Five quotes (and a couple bonuses)

Kevin Willard on Villanova shooting well vs. bad defense: “I thought it was a combination of both, I thought we were in good position and then the last three minutes of the first half I thought Jalen Brunson flipped a switch … It took momentum out of our sails and then [Eric] Paschall comes out and bangs a three to start the half. They’re a really good basketball team.”

After speaking about Myles Powell’s off-game, Willard said: “For some reason we’re having a hard time going Wednesday to Saturday, that’s two Wednesday-Saturdays that we’ve struggled for some reason. I need to do a better job with these guys. It just seems like we don’t have the same energy [on Saturday] that we have on Wednesday.”

Willard when I asked him about back-and-forth with Desi: “No, no that was the most calm conversation I’ve ever had with Desi. Des has played phenomenal for us all year, he’s played a ton of minutes, sometimes when he gets a little shot you’ve just got to sit him down. Trust me, that’s one of the most polite conversations I’ve had with Desi over the years.”

Willard was then asked about if he was happy with the defense: “They missed like four shots all game. Obviously I’m not happy with our defense, but they had a lot to do with it. We were in pretty good shape and then Jalen Brunson turned it on, which he has the ability to do. Like I said, I have to do a better job with these guys from Wednesday to Saturday. I’m not doing a good enough job with these guys to bounce back and get them ready. That’s two Saturdays in a row where we haven’t played very well defensively.” 

Khadeen Carrington on his team’s defensive effort versus Villanova shooting well: “It’s a combination of both. There were times when we played really good defense and they hit really tough shots, and there were times when guys just got open shots, so it was a combination of both.”

On the atmosphere:

Willard – “It was great, our students were phenomenal, they’ve been phenomenal all year. But I wish we gave them a little bit more to cheer about.”

Jay Wright – “Awesome man, I said that to Kevin when we shook hands at the beginning. When we drove up, we were a little late just getting into the building because there was so many people out front and the bus couldn’t get through, because of traffic. We could just sense the environment, and when we walked out, it was a great college basketball environment. I think one of the unique environments in the country, a pro arena and a college crowd — it was really cool.”

Angel Delgado – “It was great. I know Villanova bring like 8,000 people, but it was great. It was a tough game, we just didn’t win today. We played pretty good defense, they just didn’t miss no shots. They were shooting threes and making them. There was nothing we could do in my opinion.”