Five Pirates reached double figures for the first time this season while Seton Hall held New Hampshire in check defensively in a 77-57 win at Prudential Center.
Seton Hall (5-3) led 31-19 at the break after a guard-oriented attack in an overall lackluster and defensive-minded first half that included a 2:40 collective scoring drought, but things turned a little more uneasy in the second half.
New Hampshire (2-7) hit five threes in a ten minute span to make things rocky at times including a slim 35-28 Seton Hall lead at the first media break, but the hosts would eventually pull away and went into the final timeout leading by a comfortable 18 after an 11-2 run that included seven points from Mike Nzei (11 pts, 5 rebs).
In Kevin Willard’s 200th coaching victory that saw him pass Bill Raftery on Seton Hall’s all-time coaching win list, UNH stayed winless against D-I opposition while Seton Hall has No. 9 Kentucky looming on the horizon on Saturday in New York.
Taurean Thompson did not play tonight (UPDATE: He tweaked his ankle yesterday). This comes after he was glued to the bench for the entire second half of the Louisville loss after playing six minutes in the first period. He scored a pair of buckets but also took two wild shots and was beaten on defense, with Willard simply stating that Nzei and Sandro Mamukelashvili were playing well.
Anthony Nelson and Romaro Gill didn’t see the court until Nelson entered at the 13:48 mark of the second half as Willard went to a shorter rotation that benefited from Quincy McKnight staying out of foul trouble; McKnight (18 pts, 5 rebs, 3 asts) played a strong all-around game and set a new high in points as a Pirate. Gill wound up not playing as freshman forward Darnell Brodie saw some minutes in the closing minutes with the game decided. Nelson scored five in an action-filled eight minutes to go along with two boards and two assists.
Post-Louisville, Willard said he intended on getting the forwards involved more. (“Get the basketball inside a little bit, just to get pressure toward the basket without it having to be a drive”). Seton Hall’s starting guards scored 27 of their 31 first half points before Nzei and Sandro (14 pts, 11 rebs) combined for 21 points plus 10 boards in the second half as Seton Hall scored 28 points in the paint compared to just ten in the first half.
Quotes from Kevin Willard on AM970
Willard on diversifying the offense: “I love how hard these guys work on defense. To watch them play defense is a lot of fun. We’re not rewarding ourselves for doing some of the things we’re doing. Little things, we get so down on ourselves when we don’t score for a few possessions, but we’ll get five stops in a row.”
Willard on passing Bill Raftery on win list: “This is a special place. Not only for the tradition, the people the fans … To be part of Coach Raf, Coach Carlesimo, to have those guys still be involved with the program is really special. Obvious Coach Raf as good a person and ambassador there is. PJ and Raf, you wont find two bigger SH fans than those two. I’m nowhere near a tenth of a coach as PJ and 10th of a drinker that Coach Raf can be at times … To be associated with them, I’m not even on their level. It’s what makes this coaching job (worth it), because there’s a lot of tough things about this job.”
On Taurean Thompson, Romaro Gill, Anthony Nelson playing time: “Taurean, he can get hurt in the weirdest ways. We’re lifting yesterday and he stepped on a weight and buckled his ankle. He couldn’t practice,
Ant (Nelson) missed practice because of a funeral. I wanted to give him a night off mentally more than anything, but we needed a little jump — we couldn’t play the same four guys (the whole game).
Ro, he just can’t play against these teams. You’ve got to switch and they’re shooting threes. It’s tough to be a 7-foot guy playing against a team jacking threes.”
On Sandro’s strong game and first double-double: “I’m really glad he shot that three in rhythm. He’s got to do it, he can do it, he’s a good shooter. He should be a guy averaging 9-10 rebounds … Getting used to not having Angel down there, you had a man I know teams had three guys boxing him out so it was free reign for everyone else. Now that he’s not down there taking up guys, our offensive rebounding has struggled a bit … I think him and Mike are working well together. I just need to continue to grow Sandro’s confidence.”