JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Seton Hall nearly rallied from a 13-point second half deficit but was ultimately blown away by Wofford, 84-68, in the Pirates’ third first round loss in the past four seasons.
All it took was 67 seconds for Seton Hall’s final comeback of their season to come crashing down all around them.
Wofford’s eleventh three, then their twelfth, and then lucky number thirteen — for Wofford — did the Pirates in.
In the blink of an eye, a 67-66 game that looked destined for the N.C.A.A.’s first buzzer-beater of this edition, was turned completely around.
“I knew that we had a lot of momentum going for us, and me and Nate (Hoover) were kind of feeding off each other at that point,” said Fletcher Magee, who sank the dagger final three, his seventh of the night en route to setting a new N.C.A.A. record for career threes.
“We ran the same play to get it over there, and I felt like I was pretty open, so I decided to let it go.”
The final salvo of the game polished a weary Seton Hall team off after they had applied almost constant ball pressure and a three-quarters court press at any chance they could.
While the 17-0 run that would ensue turned a close game into a lopsided final score, Wofford’s half court offense picked Seton Hall apart all night long when it wasn’t being pinned back.
And even though Magee was deadly from outside, he didn’t force things.
With all eyes on the sharpshooter, Wofford rattled off a 13-0 first half run to go up 29-16 where he didn’t score.
“I mean, they’re going to make shots. They just are,” said Kevin Willard when asked about how much the perimeter battle was Wofford and how much it was his team failing to defend.
“My biggest fear came true, was that (Cameron) Jackson was going to take over the game, and I thought the biggest difference in the game was obviously, A, we turned the ball over. But B, early in the game, he settled them down. He got them going, and that was my biggest fear going into this game.”
Shiftier than his frame would suggest, Jackson gave Seton Hall fits on the interior and posted eight points, five boards, and five assists at the break.
“You look at the plus/minus, and he was plus 27. He kind of got them going and made some big buckets, got an and-one, and I really thought he was the difference in the game, believe it or not.
“They made some threes during their run, but we were shot. But he (Jackson) was the difference in the first half, and I thought he was really a difference in the game.”
Fletcher Magee agreed.
“They did a good job (defending me), especially in the first half, of just topping me and kind of making it hard to get the ball. But that’s when Cam (Jackson) was playing amazing in the first half. Everyone else on our team was stepping up and doing a lot of things, so I knew that there was no need to rush it or take bad shots. We were still controlling the game.”
Coming into this one, a lot of the focus was on the two star players: Magee and Myles Powell.
How that battle played out said a lot about not them, but the teams around them.
Magee was able to rely on his teammates while he played decoy, just in case of an open shot, but Powell watched his team fall into a ten-point hole with a diminished shot count in the first half.
After receiving a similar defensive treatment to Magee, the Trenton native’s desperate off-balance three at the half’s horn said everything you needed to know.
Unfortunately for Seton Hall, they reverted back to being turnover prone against a surprisingly strong Wofford defense, coughing it up nine times before the half, which about equaled any total they’ve had in their last five games.
It was in stark contrast to a Wofford team that looked in control of virtually every half court possession.
“When you have a senior-laden team like they do, who’s extremely well-coached, you’re going to have to play really good to beat them,” said Willard.
“And we just turned the ball over in the first half. That really kind of put us behind the eight-ball and gave them too many opportunities.”
After storming back from a 13-point second half deficit via 12 Powell points in 2:37 of game clock, we all thought Seton Hall was just pulling another rabbit out of the hat like they’ve done all season.
The sort of comeback that makes you forget about the flaws and mistakes that preceded it.
But the damage was terminal this time. Seton Hall couldn’t cope.
“We’d been in this situation all year, backs been against the wall,” said Powell when asked about the deja vu-like rally.
“Our coaching staff did a great job just telling me to relax and telling me that the game was going to come to me. My teammates had my back, my coaching staff had my back, and it’s been like this all year.
“So when you have a group of guys like that, that’s always picking you up, it’s kind of hard to lack confidence. I love this group.”