Seton Hall keeps NCAA hopes afloat and set up Big East log jam with win over Creighton

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NEWARK (N.J.) — Your cardiac kids were at it again. Following a forgetful 35 minutes, Seton Hall overcame a late six-point deficit to squeak out a critical 63-58 win over Creighton.

While you were probably closer to falling asleep than a heart attack during the relative snooze fest that took place over the first three quarters of the game, Seton Hall made sure to get back to its regular nail-biting antics down the stretch.

It’s been the story all season, especially in conference play.

Besides the Villanova and Providence losses, every game has been an emotional roller coaster and just about all have come down to the wire, yielding a 3.4-point margin of victory (or loss).

Tonight was no different, with the Pirates’ NCAA hopes hanging by a thread.

Trailing 51-46 with six to play and Creighton in possession, it was a subtle deflection from Myles Powell on the defensive end that led to Quincy McKnight fast break dunk.

The play came after Kevin Willard’s plea to ramp up the defense and the deflection would serve as foreshadowing for as strong of a finish to a game from Powell as we’ve seen.

“Coach changed the mindset. Coach wanted us to put pressure on them,” said Mike Nzei of how his team got it done down the stretch. “Myles got the first steal and that changed the game for us.”

“‘It’s time to turn things around,’” said Nzei of what Willard told the team in the huddle.

“I think Coach made the call when he told us to start pressing and I think that changed the game because I don’t think the other team expected that.”

The urgency that Seton Hall showed late on was in stark contrast to the general listlessness that enveloped both teams for the majority of the prior 30+ minutes.

It was just enough to get them over the hump and seemed quite similar to the “just enough” they showed in their last game at Prudential Center: a 65-63 win over Providence.

“We spread the floor a little bit. Iso’d them a little bit more,” said Quincy McKnight of what they changed offensively late on.

“He’s (Myles Powell) a bucket. At the end of the day you give him the ball with a little space and he’s going to create.”

“I’m trying to get him to have that intensity and that sense of urgency from the start,” said Willard of his star player and savior.

“I think it’s tough because he plays so darn hard and he gives it his all that I think he does, at times, kind of just — I wouldn’t want to say coasts offensively — but I do think at times, he kind of takes a rest.

“And when he plays with that sense of urgency and that little fire that he’s got going towards the end of games, he’s just unstoppable. But it’s hard to ask him to do that for 40 minutes.”

To Willard’s point, Powell looked mentally and physically gassed in the closing minutes tonight, although he played just 31 minutes after a week of rest.

Perhaps it was more the physical nature of the game and a mental thing for Powell, who struggled to buy a few buckets and calls early on.

“He understands how important these games are, and he understands how important he is to us. I think at times when he’s not playing well, it weighs on him, and he’s not a guy who responds to getting yelled at,” explained Willard.

“Sometimes, believe it or not, you’ve got to pump him up, and I’ll just put him in the middle of the floor and say, ‘Do what you do.’ That’s really kind of what I said to him. I said, ‘Do what you do and we’ll be fine,’ and he really did a great job of reading the defense.”

Powell, who took a lot longer than usual to appear for media interviews while McKnight held down the fort for him, would concur with Willard’s recollection.

“My coaching staff took me aside and said ‘This is what you live for, this is your time,’” said Powell of what got him and team going over the closing minutes.

“Like I’ve been saying all year, my coaches and my teammates believe in me so it’s hard to lack confidence. They just put the ball in my hands and I made plays.”

“Tonight was calm. Tonight wasn’t the Kentucky game, all those step-back threes. Tonight was a calm one,” said McKnight of his backcourt mate.

“Myles is used to this. We’ve been riding Myles the whole season. Like I said before, tonight was calm.”

*****

Big picture, Seton Hall was still hovering around the bubble coming into this one but the onus was on them to avoid defeat and pick up some wins with few marquee win opportunities on the near horizon.

Coming into tonight, winning five out of six was the baseline, including a split of road games against Creighton and St. John’s — tonight wasn’t a “good” start, but it was a start.

“It’s a huge win,” said McKnight. “You see that big blob of people that are tied for third place. We’re just trying to separate ourselves and secure third place.”

Seton Hall is now in a five-way tie for third place in the Big East with a 5-6 record.

“There’s no weak team. The last couple, two or three years, there’s been — the ninth and tenth-place teams, you could almost look at and say you’ve got a W — there’s no one you look at and say you’re going to get a W, nobody,” said Willard.

“I think it’s fun to watch, and I think it’s fun to play in. The kids really enjoy the games, our crowd this year has been great — it’s really helped us at home — it’s just a good league, man. It’s so balanced top to bottom, and the players are so good top to bottom. It’s not fun coaching in it, but it’s fun watching it.”

Despite the Big East standings and NCAA resume implications, Myles Powell wasn’t phased by the pressure. Surprised?

“I wouldn’t look at it as pressure because that’s the goal,” when asked if tonight would have been a damaging loss.

“When the season starts, when you’re in the summer, all that hard work you put in, that’s what’s motivating you: you want to get to the tournament. We made it to the tournament the last three years straight and we’d be selling ourselves short (if we didn’t). We want to get back to the tournament and we know that we can do it, and we want to keep fighting.

“We just stayed together (tonight). That’s one of our biggest mottos. We break it in our huddle and we say it every night in our group chat before we go to bed and stuff. I feel like the chemistry and bond that we have and the people that want to win is contagious so I think we’re going to be alright.”