Seton Hall survives brutal first half to slug No. 16 South Carolina 67-64

NEW YORK — They shot 26-percent from the field and registered just two assists over the first 20 minutes, but Seton Hall came to life in the second half to power past No. 16 South Carolina 67-64 late on Monday night in a thriller.

Seton Hall turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions against a relentless, lengthy South Carolina defense that would hold the Hall to under 30 points at the half but not pin down the local team for 40 minutes.

“We didn’t turn it over,” said Kevin Willard of his team’s second half adjustments. “We only had four turnovers in the second half, which was huge. We made them play a half court game, which was like a flip-flop of the first half.”

The Pirates were able to survive an early flagrant one from Madison Jones to go up 17-16 with nine to play, but 13 first half turnovers eventually allowed the Gamecocks to answer with a 9-0 run that forced Seton Hall to keep their ship afloat in the most unlikely of ways: free throws.

Seton Hall wouldn’t see the lead again for over 15 minutes of game clock.

Kevin Willard’s guys were a near perfect 11-of-12 clip from the line at the break, a stark contrast to a sub-50% showing in Hawaii, and it marked the only offensive bright spot over the first 20 minutes.

Seton Hall trailed by eight early in the second half but they really came to life following the first media timeout.

“After a while we said screw it and just drive,” said Willard of breaking South Carolina’s defense down. “They take you out of your offense really well. We just wanted to space the court and drive.”

The driving approach allowed Seton Hall to draw seven early second half fouls which yielded dividends down the stretch.

Mid-way through the second half, a patented Desi Rodriguez (16 pts, 4 rebs) flush was followed up by several key defensive stops that set up a crowd-invigorating behind the head pass from Angel Delgado (13 pts, 12 rebs) that brought Seton Hall within two at 48-46.

Myles Powell (11 pts, 7 rebs) would then give his guys their first lead since 17-16 when he converted on a tough and-one just seconds after Delgado’s dime.

The lead was short-lived, but it capped off a pivotal stretch of play that injected life into a seemingly jet-lagged team.

Seton Hall carried a 56-55 lead out of the under-eight in the midst of a six-minute South Carolina field goal drought but failed to immediately capitalize after Jones missed an off-balance lay-up and then was blocked from behind by Chris Silva on a fast break.

The Pirates nearly coughed up a four-point lead over the closing minutes, but it was Dunkin’ Desi who provided the game winning baseline drive after sitting out for six minutes with foul trouble.

“It was either going to be Desi man-to-man on the wing or Desi man-to-man against their zone,” said Willard of the game-winning play he drew up.

“I wanted someone fresh with the ball and he made a really good power move. It was pass it to Desi and everyone else get out of the way. Sometimes that’s the best way.”