Leading 50-47 with 9:21 to play, it looked like Seton Hall had turned a corner en route to a Big East crown.
But a 14-3 Creighton run flipped the script and jump-started a Bluejays rout as the Pirates utterly collapsed down the stretch, particularly on defense, backing into a Big East tri-champion arrangement that also includes Villanova in what seems less than a consolation.
Holding a 1.5-game lead on Creighton just six days ago after they lost at St. John’s, Seton Hall’s rough week saw the Bluejays raise a banner to the rafters immediately post-game, bumping Seton Hall to a 3-seed and the late 9:30 tip on Thursday in New York.
Five Thoughts (and one)
The Pirates were able to control the tempo quite well for the first 20+ minutes of the game. Despite an offense that went off the rails when Myles Powell was sidelined for 6.5 minutes due to first half foul trouble, it all stemmed from methodical offense that brought about good looks that were summarized well by Kevin Willard stepping five feet on the court and urging Quincy McKnight to slow down the pace. The tempo controlling masked a defense that was already suffering from lapses and allowing Creighton to gain confidence and shoot at a 50%+ clip throughout.
Seton Hall has been lauded as a defensive juggernaut and Creighton will make you look bad, but the Pirates were tough to watch on defense for key stretches today. From open corner three after open corner three to the team’s paint defense disappearing after Romaro Gill picked up his fourth foul, there was plenty not to like as the Jays drained 14 of 26 threes, shot 54-percent overall, scored 30 points over the game’s final nine minutes, and scored on 12 of 13 possessions passing just after the double technicals.
Creighton had a hand in it, but in terms of teams wilting, the last nine minutes were bad. The Jays seemed like they couldn’t miss: they scored on 12 of their next 13 possessions after the Hall went up 50-47, but it was far from luck. Creighton, but primarily Ty-Shon Alexander, was able to clamp down defensively and win the points off turnover (17-9) and fast break (13-2) battles easily all game and they made the most of their chances over the final quarter. Powell’s three out of a timeout before the under-four and McKnight’s tip-in were brief glimmers of hope but stood no chance when faced with Creighton’s onslaught, which saw them take and make several high percentage looks.
The late-game double technicals on Sandro Mamukelashvili and Damien Jefferson were coming. The Fox broadcast team flagged some trash talking prior to the two tangling up and Marcus Zegarowski was also spotted saying something extra to Seton Hall’s huddle going into the timeout prior to the techs. It seemed like Jefferson really got under Sandro’s skin as Sandro held nothing back, pointing at Jefferson demonstratively after he got pulled away and it was quite clear what Sandro said to Jefferson and I’m below average at lip-reading. It seemed at first that Sandro had head-butted Jefferson, who didn’t come off as great either, but at least the entire sequence didn’t escalate into anything further.
Seton Hall doesn’t seem to have a consistent secondary plan on offense. When the starting five are flowing and really slinging the rock around, things can be really rosy. But it seems when the team has to improv a little bit, ill-advised attempts and quick shots become the norm. It’s odd to me that Sandro — a dynamic presence — didn’t score after the 3:46 mark of the first half. Jared Rhoden (12p, 5r) was a big impact from the pine, but it’s a bit of an anomaly because Myles Cale simply isn’t much of a threat offensively anymore. So outside of McKnight-Powell-Rhoden-Sandro-Gill, the team had just two points, four boards, and an assist from the supporting cast.
Again, I’m going to die on the hill named Creighton are Big East champs. Hang onto co/tri-champs tightly like Kate Winslet in the final act of Titanic if that’s what lets you sleep at night, but I’m going down with this ship. If you’re swept by an opponent and are a 3-seed in the conference tournament, I’m sorry but you’re not the champion of anything. I mean, technically you are according to Big East rules, but it’s really a petty consolation and I personally wouldn’t put any stock into a title that can be shared by not two but three teams. It’s a high school sports level farce. Creighton is clearly the best team in the conference and I’m sure the banner they raised that didn’t read ‘co-champions’ is going to rub people the wrong way including Kevin Willard (see below), but they deserve it. They’re 3-1 against the two teams they tied with and if anyone has a shared claim of the title, it’s not Seton Hall but Villanova. It seems the players were not nearly as optimistic as Willard was post-game, which bodes well for their hunger in New York and beyond.
Post-game AM570 quotes from Kevin Willard
Opening statement: “I wish I could bring my kids out here right now. They’re [Creighton] cutting down the nets and we didn’t have a chance– I have 13 kids who think they failed miserably. I just tried to tell them this is an unbelievable accomplishment. Yes, we had a chance to win it outright, we had two chances that didn’t come through for us. But to take away from what this team has done and what this team has accomplished would be a big mistake.”
More on cutting down the nets, later in interview: “I’m really pissed off that people are cutting down the nets and my guys are down there– I should have brought them out, but they’re not in a really good mood right now.”
On controlling tempo: “We had a good shot, we controlled the tempo in the first half. I thought we did a great job controlling tempo in the first half. And we had a couple opportunities in the second half where we’re up three and we lost Ballock. He’s really the key, when he starts making shots these guys feed off him so well. He made those two threes, then we just ran out of gas to be honest with you. Give them credit. The kid Zegarowski, I told Gary [Cohen] in pregame, I think he’s one of the best five point guards in the country.”
On the team handling tempo adjustment: “Yeah, that’s what I like about having an older team. We got in trouble because we came down and took four quick shots and it led to them getting four easy buckets. In this building, you can’t take quick shots. The crowd is into it the whole time, this might have been one of the loudest times I’ve been in this building. I told the guys ‘Let’s walk it up, let’s make sure we use a lot of clock and take the crowd out of it.’ And I thought we did a good job of that and then we had a couple– Myles [Powell] had an open look, mid-second half where it rims in and out and that would have given us a good buffer.”
On officiating being one-sided and affecting team: “No, I don’t think so. It’s a little frustrating, I think a get more frustrated for Myles [Powell], that’s where my frustration comes in. Non-conference he was going to the free throw line almost 13 times per game. I know conference play is different but as much as he’s driving and going there and guys are riding him, I think his frustration boils over a little bit.”
On Creighton getting hot late: “I think that’s what’s cool about this place is they hit a three and this place gets loud. Defensively it gets them going. And they’re really solid defensively.”
On playing late game on Thursday in New York: “I’m forever pegged into that game. I said this to Father John: the good Lord must know I like to go to bed at 10. My grandmother was always worried about purgatory. I think, her worry put me in the purgatory of that 9:30 game. I like the way we bounced back from an emotionally tough loss the other night. The scoreboard doesn’t show what this game was. I thought we bounced back from a really tough, devastating loss on Senior Night. I thought we came back, so I know what we’ll do and how we’ll feel. We’re going to get a couple days off which I think is needed for these guys right now.”
More on bouncing back: “We’re not done. I’m excited, I’m ready. Little things I was looking for and I saw the fight that we came out with and I was like ‘Alright.’ You can have a game like you have [on Thursday] and lose and then come out and throw another egg on the board and we didn’t throw an egg, we battled. I was really proud of my guys. We didn’t take care of business at home unfortunately. I was really hoping to go 6-3 on the road and 7-2 at home because we always have a stinker at home. For some reason our mid-west games are always tough for us at home. The only stinker I thought we really had was obviously the Xavier game was really bad.
“I’m going to go home tonight and I’m going to sit down with my wife and for the first time in a while I’m going to open up a really nice bottle of wine with her. I’m going to toast the regular season championship. I’m going to make sure my guys understand how proud I am of them. … I’m going to give all my kids a hug, tell them how proud of them I am and then we’re going to get ready for March. … I really hope our fans are understanding how proud they should be of this basketball team and how proud they should be of this basketball team and most importantly how hard this team has worked.”