NEW YORK CITY — Seton Hall’s hard-fought, gritty 89-79 win over No. 22 Texas Tech has turned the tide on their young season and put what they are capable of on full display.
Leading 73-65 with 5:57 to play and Ish Sanogo on the line, most Seton Hall fans probably felt as I did: not confident at all.
That’s not a personal knock on Sanogo, a career 52-percent guy at the line.
But missed free throws and making games closer than they have to be down the stretch is a staple of recent Seton Hall basketball for any fan with a shred of cynicism in their veins.
With an elderly Texas Tech fan waving her red shawl directly behind the basket, Sanogo of course missed the shot.
But what ensued went against the cynical grain, brought the team together in the moment, and will serve as a bookmark to reference later in the season when push comes to shove.
Myles Powell — who would feature later down the stretch — missed a quick three off the rebound, but a mosh pit of players would then collide while trying to pull down the second offensive board which costed Sanogo a linebacker blow to the face by a Texas Tech big.
Seton Hall came up with the all-important fumble.
After a brief coming together by both teams, Sanogo turned to the bench with adrenaline-laced passion that summed up the whole sequence.
Two seconds later, Khadeen Carrington would score to give the Hall a ten-point lead, the biggest for either team in the game at that juncture and one which Powell made sure wouldn’t slip away.
“You see it, every time one of us gets into something, everybody is there,” said a grinning Carrington of the physical sequence.
“That just goes to show our brotherhood and how tight we are. We’re not going to let nobody punk one of us, we’re going to be there for each other.”
The showing of passion and extra effort brought the late-arriving Madison Square Garden crowd to a boil as the Seton Hall support made it feel just as, if not more at home than the Rock. The tough-as-nails play encapsulated a string of similar ones earlier in the game and says a lot about the character of the team.
“They’re all workers,” said Kevin Willard of his team. “They’re all talented, but I think the biggest talent that they all have is that they all work, they all put the work in.”
“When I watched them on film, I thought this is one of the best teams we’re going to see all year.”
“Ish brings a lot of energy to the game,” said Powell of the frantic play. “When he’s doing stuff like that on the offensive end and defensive end, it inspires everybody and that’s what sparked us.”
Powell is more qualified to speak on said burst of energy than anyone.
After getting their double-digit cushion, it looked like Seton Hall hit a brief patch of cruise control before Texas Tech brought their deficit to six with just over two minutes to play after implementing a highly disruptive full court press.
Just as Mr. Cynical had his foot in the door (again), Mr. Powell slammed it shut.
He scored seven unanswered — and picked up a steal — in 45 seconds to instantly turn the sophomore from Trenton into a Madison Square Garden veteran.
“Anytime Myles Powell shoots the basketball, you can count on it going down,” said Willard of his two-guard that he labelled as the “best shooter in the country.”
“When you have a guy like that on the floor, it makes everyone better.”
Big picture, this win is a significant morale boost after expectation-cooling showings on the court in Brooklyn for the NIT Tip-Off and it primes the Pirates for another resume-building test at Louisville this weekend.
For Carrington, who was mentored by his coach during the week to remind him he’s playing better than he thinks, the meaning of tonight’s win was concise but has resonating principles.
“It says a lot. It says that we never stay down.”