Rapid Reaction: Seton Hall outlasts St. John’s, 81-74

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NEW YORK CITY — A shortened turnaround, FBI reports, and an injured starter couldn’t stop a gutsy effort from Seton Hall (20-9, 9-7) as they wore out St. John’s 81-74 at Madison Square Garden.

Rapid Reaction

Known for their slow starts over recent weeks, Seton Hall started against the grain today. Given the Providence court debacle and the recent FBI report, one would expect the Pirates to perpetuate the theme of getting off to sluggish starts, but that wasn’t the case today. Looking loose in warm-ups — freshman Myles Cale received his first start and was dunking all over the place — continued into the game as the Hall got off to an 11-5 start before St. John’s woke up.

Boy, did Kevin Willard get creative without Desi Rodriguez. While Cale starting was always likely, he picked up two early fouls and Willard cooked up some outlandishly creative lineups as a result. Highlighting the mix and matching was his usage of preferred walk-on Philip Flory, who played 17 minutes, 11 of which came in the first half. Perhaps the most bizarre moment occurred when Willard had Flory, Mike Nzei, and Sandro Mamukelashvili underneath in a 2-3 zone. With three or four second team guys on the court at several times, Willard’s man management looked more like hockey than hoops; he played ten guys in the first half, nine of whom recorded assists.

This was the back-and-forth game that everyone expected. The noon start combined with a very late-arriving crowd that would eventually reach about 15,000 (18,840 paid) was a recipe for an overall lackluster first ten minutes. But things really heated up before the halftime break and it carried over to the second period with most of the game played within a possession or two: neither team held a lead larger than six through the final media timeout. Most of the Garden was on its feet for the closing two minutes.

Seton Hall’s depth won out in the end. Up against a St. John’s team that doesn’t usually go deeper than one guy on their bench (347th in bench minutes), and had a similar turnaround as the Hall after playing at Marquette on Wednesday night, the Red Storm looked gassed down the stretch and in overtime as they were also dealing with foul trouble to three of their starters.