Newark (N.J.) — For the first time in over a month, Seton Hall has strung together wins after putting away Georgetown 90-75 in confident fashion and it came in their most complete game since non-league play.
Seton Hall (15-9, 6-6) led by double digits for the final 34 minutes tonight, leaving Patrick Ewing with some strong words about his team and Kevin Willard trying to recall the last time he worked with a double digit lead.
“They beat us in all phases of the game. We were poor defensively. We didn’t execute our offense well. We didn’t show up,” said a flat and defeated Patrick Ewing.
“To me, this is our worst loss in my two years here. My guys did not come ready to play.”
“I can’t remember the last time we had a double-digit lead,” said Kevin Willard before adding that the late margin against Xavier didn’t count.
“I think the biggest thing that we’ve been — this is the first time we’ve had back-to-back league games at home all year, and I think the biggest thing was what I’ve been hammering down over the last three days, four days of practice — is we’ve got to come out and be much more aggressive offensively, everybody.
“I thought Myles Powell — even though he missed his first three shots — I thought he came out aggressive shooting the basketball, being aggressive, and I thought that set the tone.”
It’s hard to overlook a rather routine 30 points from Powell, but Mike Nzei (18p, 9r) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (11p, 8r, 4a) also set the tone for Seton Hall in both halves.
The pair combined to score ten of the Hall’s first 12 in the first half and six of their first nine in the second half as the Pirates went on to pull down 15 offensive rebounds and go plus-eight on the night, a margin that was wider earlier in the game.
“Sandro is a good player. Every player is going to have a rough stretch. Coach always tells him don’t hesitate to shoot, and you could tell today he didn’t (hesitate),” said Mike Nzei of his front court mate.
“Coach gave him confidence all week and he came in and did what he’s supposed to do,” continued Nzei, who spoke of a player in Sandro who thrives on confidence.
“Sandro — he’s been frustrating me because he has been playing so well in practice and he hasn’t been aggressive in games,” said Kevin Willard of his big, who added that he’s been hounding Sandro for better play.
In a candid moment, Sandro revealed that tonight’s ‘Seton Hall vs. Cancer Night’ theme struck a chord with him.
Unprompted: “The crowd helped us a lot, I want to thank everybody coming out. It was a great night for us because breast cancer and cancer (in general). My family went through it. This game was for my father. I hope he watched it and saw it, it was a great night, great win.
When I asked if he wanted to elaborate, as I didn’t know what he was referring to.
“He’s cancer free now, he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma but he got over it, it was a long time ago. It was an emotional game and I love fun games like that where we can represent people who have some difficulties. On the court can show them how much we care and want to help them.”
It’s no wonder Sandro played strongly tonight.
In a microcosm of how Seton Hall played, Sandro displayed an act of resiliency when he responded to being put on a poster by Jagan Mosely in the first half by coming right back and dunking on Georgetown.
Sandro chalked it up to a mental win and his brother gets the assist.
“So, I came out really competitive (tonight). I talked to my brother before the game and he said ‘Whatever happens, don’t be negative.'”
“Sometimes when I miss a shot I put my head down and get in my thoughts, but tonight I wasn’t thinking about it. As soon as he dunked on me, I said ‘I can’t finish the game (like this),’ and he really stuffed me. I said ‘there’s no way I’m going out and not taking my revenge in this game.'”
Unlike previous games, Sandro and Seton Hall didn’t let up off the pedal for a good 38 minutes.
“I feel like, coming into the game we were like ‘We need this win, we’ve got to go 6-6, be third in the Big East,'” added Mamukelashvili.
“Also, coming into the second half, we were up 13, we told ourselves ‘They were down 20. There’s no way we’re giving this lead up.’ You know how the Big East goes, teams never give up. We just came out saying, ‘We’re not losing this game, we’re not losing this lead.'”
“I could see in my teammates faces that they were all ready to go and they were all feeling it,” said Mike Nzei when asked about how he kept coming up with loose balls.
“Between us as a team we were just talking among each other– Coach wanted us to focus a lot on defense and we kept constantly reminding ourselves ‘Pay attention to the defense, let’s get one and two stops.’”
While Nzei and Mamu were the all-important adhesive, Myles Cale and Quincy McKnight also stepped up to the tune of 17 points and nine assists, respectively, to round out a top-heavy performance from the starters and just five points from the bench, which didn’t include Taurean Thompson, who dressed but didn’t play.
“When Sandro and Myles Cale play the way they did, now it just gives us three scorers on the perimeter,” added Willard, whose team was shooting north of 50-percent from three late in the first half and finished 11-of-25.
“It gives us guys that can make shots, and the way we played tonight offensively is the way we’ve been practicing.”
Defensively, McKnight helped hold Georgetown’s guard duo of Mac McClung and James Akinjo to nine points; only Villanova had held McClung to single digits (4) since November.
“I thought Q really started the game off defensively — in our press, he was great,” applauded Willard.
“He really worked him (Akinjo). I thought both Myles (Powell) and him got him out of rhythm a little bit.”
Seton Hall held Georgetown to a lot of tough looks after giving up a couple easy buckets in the opening minutes and multiple players spoke of how tonight’s success started on the defensive end.
Big picture, Seton Hall’s win is their first streak since winning at Xavier on the second day of January and comes at a critical time. Still on the bubble, winning two of their next three is likely the goal with road games at Creighton and St. John’s on the horizon.
Tonight’s win had shades of December-esque play in the completeness Seton Hall put on display.
“Yes, because we’ve been home a little bit, we’ve been able to practice a little bit, we’ve been able to have some consistency with that. We haven’t been on the road and playing, so the Kentucky, Maryland — that whole stretch — we were home.
“We didn’t play a road game — Madison Square Garden’s not a road game for us — so we didn’t travel, and being home this past week was great. We practice hard.
“I practice those guys — for February, I usually go about an hour on the court — we’ve been going almost two-and-a-half hours, so I just think it helped a young basketball team kind of get back in a good rhythm.”
That rhythm will need to continue to Omaha as Seton Hall continues their fight for another NCAA bid, now sitting third in the Big East.