Seton Hall hitting its stride as Big East play starts up

Wendell Cruz/FinishFirstPhotos

NEWARK, N.J. — A mere two weeks ago, a 2-0 start to Big East play would be to die for as Seton Hall struggled past Prairie View A&M with its two best players sidelined.

How quickly things change.

Not far removed from a rocky stretch, the Pirates have not only emerged unscathed post-Rutgers but apparently stronger than they were prior.

What doesn’t kill you…

“Everybody is playing their best basketball right now,” said Quincy McKnight, who flirted with a triple-double despite an apparent flu in the man-handling of Georgetown.

“Everybody is being aggressive. Nobody is really scared to shoot the ball. Everybody came here as a high-level scorer, slasher, whatever you are, top shooters — we’re all just going out to play our part and that’s what we’ve been doing these past games.”

That’s the thing, it wasn’t like Seton Hall just weathered a storm and then Powell came back to drop 30-bombs on everyone.

Aside from his eight-point salvo to put the game out of reach after Georgetown cut it to 61-50, Powell was fairly quiet as his teammates put together perhaps the most balanced effort this year, a box score that resembles one the 2014 class would assemble.

“I think, for me, it’s been much easier for me to navigate having gone through a couple of games without Myles to know my rotation, what we could do and who I can depend on,” evaluated Kevin Willard.

“When you lose a guy mid-game, it’s so hard to make an adjustment in college basketball mid-game, but when you have some time to sit there and say, ‘Okay, now we can adjust and we can do this, we can move the chess pieces around,’ I think, more than anything, it’s given me a lot of confidence in running different things for different guys at different times.”

That distribution of wealth is hitting its stride after two Big East games in which McKnight has accumulated 17 assists, Myles Cale has gone 6-of-9 from three, and third- or fourth-choice scorers like Romaro Gill and Jared Rhoden are filling in the gaps.

While McKnight’s play has been great albeit a bit overlooked by some and Gill has shown these flashes of dominance in the past, it may be Myles Cale who has made the biggest zero-to-sixty acceleration since Prairie View.

Cale poured in five threes on just six attempts — all in the first half — and looked like the primary Myles, halfheartedly taunting the Georgetown bench after his second make, as if he could foresee what was to come.

After starting his season a poor 11-for-38 (29%) from three, Cale is now a cool 6-of-9 over his past two games since an apparent breakthrough talk with Kevin Willard after Prairie View.

“It hasn’t been instant,” clarified Willard; these performances were a few weeks in the making.

“If you look at his shot, he had gotten it down a little bit from his release point last year. When he was really shooting the basketball well at the end of last year, his release point was so much higher. We’ve been watching film and taping him shooting, and then watching film, and to his credit, he’s just stayed positive.

“He’s put up with me — when I get on those kicks, I don’t let him leave the gym — and he’s been in there for the last…we’ve been grinding since early December, and when you have to change a little thing in your shot that sounds like it’s a simple thing, but it’s almost like changing your golf swing, it just takes time and patience.

“To his credit, he has stayed patient, especially with me, and now he’s getting rewarded for the hard work he’s put into it.”

A witness to Willard’s regular kidnapping of Cale, McKnight concurred.

“Myles has been working on his shot the last probably two weeks or so, working on it, working on it non-stop him and Coach, before practice and after practice. Today, it showed all the hard work he’s put in.”

“It definitely feels good. My teammates have the ultimate confidence in me,” said a relieved Cale, who hasn’t seen much media face time this year due to his performances.

“They know I can make shots, they’ve seen me make plenty of shots before. Before this, I was kind of in a slump and they knew I was going through it and I’d eventually get out of it and I broke through and I’m starting to feel it again.”

When complimented by increased consistency from Gill and career-best distribution from McKnight, the progress shown in Cale’s game is a great benchmark of how this team is coming along, even if the Big East slate is very early yet.

“Those two games without Myles [Powell] definitely boosted our confidence a lot,” said McKnight.

“Everybody is playing at a top level right now. It’s scary, when Myles isn’t [at the top of his game] and we’re still out there scoring the ball at the pace that we’re scoring it, we’re a tough team to beat.”

The Big East is starting to find that out the hard way.