NEW YORK — Following an eye-pleasing first half, it looked like Seton Hall was going to ease to their third win over Butler on the season.
Instead, Pirates fans are now dreading the selection committee placing them in the 8-9 game on Sunday after Butler fought back from 14 down in the first half to win in the closing seconds.
Seton Hall shot 65-percent from the floor in an impressive first 19.5 minutes which saw Ish Sanogo return from injury to pour in 12 points before the break, two shy of his career high.
“I thought Desi (Rodriguez) and Ish (Sanogo), for two guys really battling injures, worked hard over the last two weeks to try to get themselves in position to be able to play,” said Kevin Willard of his injured seniors; Desi added eight points.
“I thought both guys gave us a really good lift, especially Ish in the first half.”
I said that only Seton Hall’s first 19.5 minutes were impressive because the final 30 seconds appeared to put a damper on the Pirates’ rhythm.
Up 43-33 with 28 seconds left in the half, Khadeen Carrington (17 pts, 7 rebs, 6 asts) fouled Kelan Martin (17 pts) on the perimeter. He would convert two of the three.
In isolation, the ill-advised move didn’t look terrible until Butler opened the second half with a bucket just prior to a pair of Pirates turnovers.
A chance to expand their lead to 12 or 14 instead saw the Bulldogs within four 90 seconds into the second half, and that set the tone for their never-say-die attitude the rest of the way.
Despite the earlier slip-up, it also looked like Seton Hall would come away victors after they held a 64-57 lead with 5:54 to play and the largely pro-Hall crowd at the Garden on their feet, expecting a win.
But a personal 6-0 run from Kamar Baldwin, who tired a career-high 32, cut that lead to one and set up a frantic finish that I’m sure you are actively trying to erase from your memory.
Most notably the hectic closing minutes saw Angel Delgado (13 pts, 9 rebs) curiously on the bench for the final 11 seconds and Butler’s go-ahead bucket.
“They’ve run the same play against us at home, on the road. They were just going to bring Wideman up and crack ’em,” explained Willard of why he had Delgado sidelined.
“So Mike (Nzei) being a better pick-and-roll defender was on (Tyler) Wideman to try to stop (Kamar) Baldwin. … “I thought Mike did a good job of challenging it late, and Wideman did a great job following it, tipping it (in).”
For now, Seton Hall must hope for a favorable seed and pray their early exit provides much-needed rest and preparation.
“That’s what I told the team,” said Willard of what motivation this loss can provide.
“I’m going to look at the positive side of it. And that’s the first time we’re going to have a chance to get some rest going into the NCAA tournament. We’re going to take the rest. We’re going to use it to practice and get a little sharper on some things that we’ve been doing well at.
“I think both teams made some great plays and they made the last one.”