For most of Seton Hall’s statement 83-81 win over Miami in the Wooden Legacy final, it was all about offense. But a series of defensive stops down the stretch got the job done and helped the Pirates come away with some hardware after a choppy start to their season.
This was the most balanced offense to date. Hot starts from Sandro Mamukelashvili (9 pts, 5 rebs, 3 asts) and Jared Rhoden (8 pts, 4 rebs) set the tone for guys like Mike Nzei (21 pts, 8-8 fg, 4 rebs), Quincy McKnight (16 pts, 5 asts, 4 rebs, 3 stls, 1 TO) and of course Myles Powell (17 pts, 3 rebs, 2 asts) to follow suit as five Pirates had between seven and ten points at the break. A major question mark has been how will this team survive when Powell isn’t scoring 20+, well, tonight should be bookmarked as a blueprint for how to build a more well-rounded attack.
That was quite the entertaining game. The lack of defense irked me at first, but then I remembered the context (three games in four days) and the 10:30 ET tip time — it made it easier to sit back and enjoy. Neither team led by more than seven to go along with 16 lead changes and 12 ties. The game was played within two possessions for almost the entirety and it made for a great game for fans and neutrals alike to conclude a successful trip out west.
Quincy McKnight easily gets the game ball. Despite Mike Nzei’s career high 21 on a perfect night from the field, it was McKnight who did everything to fill out an equally perfect stat line. His key plays on both sides of the ball boiled down to two: the strip in the lane of a slashing Chris Lykes with 1:10 to play and the team leading 82-80 was just as crucial as his five-point outburst after a 6-0 Miami run turned the tide in their favor at 70-67 with nine to play just after Seton Hall had rattled off a 6-0 run.
As I’ve alluded to, key defense down the stretch ultimately stole the show. Seton Hall held Miami to just four points (one field goal) over the final five minutes, and Sandro’s drawn charge on the baseline just prior to the aforementioned strip from McKnight was another key defensive play.
This could turn out to be a key neutral court win come Selection Sunday, if Seton Hall is in the discussion. Miami was 21st in KenPom and 35th in the AP poll coming into this one, but it remains to be seen if they will sink or float during a daunting ACC schedule and of course it’s way too early to say if the Hall will be in the Big Dance discussion. But for now, this is a huge bounce-back win after dropping two straight to Nebraska and Saint Louis, and it sets up Seton Hall nicely to get on a roll against Louisville and then New Hampshire before they clash with Kentucky at the Garden in two weeks.
Kevin Willard quotes, courtesy of AM970
On the team’s mental toughness: “I think that’s still going to be our biggest growth. We still get a little down on ourselves. What I like about this team, they work hard and play hard. That Miami team, I knew was going to be really tough to defend with little preparation, their pick & rolls … sometimes you’ve got to out-offense them.”
On Mike Nzei’s career night: “He has a lot of confidence in himself, which he should. I would have a lot of confidence in myself if I knew I could get a job on Wall Street no matter how I played too. I was such a bad player and such a bad student — that’s why I went bald in college. Mikey is playing well and the guys are finding him on the baseline … We’re able to space the floor out, now instead of Angel being down there for 38 minutes, Mikey is down there … He’s doing a really good job of being efficient, we’ve just got to get him shooting free throws better.”
On Jared Rhoden’s impressive game: “I think everyone forgets about Jared is he had shoulder surgery. He’s about a month behind of where he should be. His energy, enthusiasm is awesome. Whether its practice or the locker room, it’s infectious. I love having a guy like that on the floor.”
Willard revealed somber news regarding Anthony Nelson when asked about Quincy McKnight: “Anthony Nelson had a death in his family. He said he’s going to fight through it, I give that young man so much credit … I told Q you might have a heavier load because we’ve got to pick up our guy. The thing I like about Quince, he’s starting to be a little aggressive going downhill on pick and rolls instead of going side-to-side like he was the first couple games. Once he gets downhill, he’s tough. He can finish, he’s got good length. He made a big three in the corner, shooting the ball with confidence. With Ant and him, I like that position because they both defend well.”
When Gary Cohen jokingly asked if the team should play more 11PM games given their showing in California: “All I know, everyone wants me and you to do a little late night radio show. I’m going to tell everyone I’m signing off on the late-night radio show. It’s not happening … I’m looking forward to getting to bed at a normal time.”