New York (N.Y.) — Most people who missed the opening couple minutes of Seton Hall’s 78-70 loss to St. John’s thought they were reading a typo.
But the New York City-sized 28-5 score displayed on the Madison Square Garden big screen was indeed reality.
Seton Hall’s sad reality after failing to overcome a 22-point second half deficit after dealing themselves a throwaway hand in the opening minutes?
They need to win at Georgetown next weekend and then do some more work against Marquette and Villanova to not feel desperate when they come back to the Garden in a couple weeks.
But while the big picture is certainly concerning as the dreaded three letter acronym N.I.T. starts to appear at an increasing rate, it was the little things tonight.
A lackluster start effort-wise, in stark contrast to a St. John’s team playing without a starter.
Kevin Willard’s first post-game question was about those dreadful opening minutes and he deflected the question like an over-protective coach.
“I’ve never questioned this team’s effort or their intensity. I give Marvin Clark a lot of credit, he came out and set the tone with his defense and offensively he came out and got us on our heels,” said Willard.
“These guys, it’s not from a lack of effort. You have to give St. John’s credit. They came out and they knew how important this game was and came out hungry like a pack of dogs and put us on our heels.”
But Myles Powell couldn’t hold back in an MSG interview setting that usually doesn’t provoke the more candid exchanges.
“Coach can say the effort was there because he always has our back, but as a captain and a leader, I don’t think it (effort) was there,” said a dejected Powell after scoring 22 of his 26 in the second half in an inefficient showing.
In a now growing list of times that Seton Hall has started games throwing the ball out of bounds more than through the net, Willard said it’s time to change a starting lineup he’s only tinkered with thrice this season.
The proposed solution came when asked about the team’s focus.
“We’ve been in a lot of close type games. I don’t think this group has been through it. The biggest thing is they don’t understand this time of year what it takes to win on a nightly basis. It’s learning lessons.”
“I think I am going to make some changes to the starting lineup going forward. You can’t have your starting backcourt with a 6:13 assist to turnovers (ratio). I am going to make some changes to maybe help that out,” said Willard.
While Quincy McKnight has taken the brunt of the blame after turning it over five times in the first half to get St. John’s on their way, Willard has a point that it’s a collective backcourt thing.
After being met with a Justin Simon face-guard a second into Seton Hall’s first possession, Powell scored just four points on eight shots and turned it over three times in the first half.
While his big second half in terms of points helped the team rally, Powell also turned it over twice in the closing two minutes when within two possessions.
“These guys have followed Myles’ lead most of the year. I’m balancing how much– I think we need to press and be aggressive defensively, but I’m really worried about how much I’ve put on Myles,” continued a reflective Willard when asked about how Powell has been more productive in second halves lately.
“The only negative thing I’ll say about him, he’s such a good kid and I just think he’s being too passive. He’s not playing with that selfishness early on in games. I think he realizes as games go on.
“It’s not a knock on him, if anything it’s a compliment. Some of these other guys need to help him out a little bit more early in games instead of sitting there watching Myles. I need to make some changes to facilitate that a bit.”
Looking ahead to a Georgetown game that Powell described as “two of four wins” that they needed heading into the Garden, Seton Hall has a week off to mull over how to slap some band-aids on what becomes a deeper wound by the loss.
Beyond tweaking to the starting five, Willard spoke to resting a physically and mentally drained Powell, who displayed signs of both in the loss.
“We knew we had to win two of the last four games today, and that’s our goal,” said Powell.
“Whatever it takes for us to get back to the (NCAA) Tournament, I’m sure Coach is going to know and he’s going to make sure we know. Like I said, we’ve been fighting for it all year, and we’re not going to stop fighting for what we want.”
“I know Myles Powell needs a couple days, and I think more than anything, he needs it mentally,” said Willard.
“I like the rest of these guys that haven’t played a lot of games in this situation to continue with the rhythm, but I’m looking forward to the week off. Like I said, I love these guys, I love this team. We’ve been in a lot of close games, man, all year long — it started in November and it takes a toll on you, physically and mentally.”
“And as good as these guys have been, they need a little reset button to kind of just get their batteries charged, especially the guy sitting next to me (Powell). He’s done it all year, and I’ve got great confidence that he’s going to be able to bounce back and do it again.”
Trailing by 22 with 12 to play, the Garden was whipped into a singalong to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ before Seton Hall’s comeback ensued.
At the time, the song seemed a subtle jab at the Hall’s NCAA hopes.
Starting next Saturday in D.C. against Georgetown, there is no more margin for error and odds are Seton Hall won’t be dancing with anybody if they no-show again.