Villanova Notebook: Seton Hall comes agonizingly close to epic Senior Night

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NEWARK (N.J.) — Seton Hall nearly executed a walk-off Big East title-winning shot on Senior Night but the fairy tale plot fell short.

Five Thoughts

Seton Hall just didn’t have that extra production on offense they needed tonight. Shavar Reynolds Jr, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, and Powell’s passing showed up, but this game was calling out for a supplemental three from Powell or Jared Rhoden to really help the offense. It definitely seemed like Powell got a longer leash as point/lead guard (matched a career-high eight assists) and he made Villanova pay with his passes, but couldn’t buy a big shot; the pair went 3-of-13 from deep.

The Pirates spent a lot of energy just trying to get within five points for the majority of the second half. It seemed like whether it was a clutch three from Justin Moore or a big offensive rebound or bounce, Villanova was able to keep Seton Hall at bay long enough — it took until the 6:00 mark for the Pirates to get closer than five; how many times did they cut to five only for it to double back up to ten? Credit to the Wildcats, they played a sound game and really made Seton Hall’s defense pay at key times, even when they were stout.

Tacking onto the first comment about offensive production, Myles Powell and Sandro’s droughts hurt the team. Sandro scored seven points in the first seven minutes but then didn’t score again until Willard’s pair of timeouts mid-way through the second half. Powell also snapped an 11.5-minute drought during the same sequence. Sandro is becoming dominant when he’s locked in (also grabbed ten boards), but that’s coming in spurts: He scored his 17 of his 20 points in the first eight and last eight minutes of the game. Regardless, the big man is coming on very strong, he and McKnight are really turning up their offensive production.

I was a bit surprised at how quickly the crowd gave up, luckily the team didn’t follow suit. Admittedly things looked quite bleak heading into the under-four trailing 71-63 with 2:43 to play, but fans started to stream for the exits and the crowd was nearly silent on Villanova’s ensuing possession out of the timeout — a made basket. Maybe I’m nit-picking considering the lower bowl were on their feet for the six-plus minutes prior, but that was an opportunity you yell your heart out when the team needs it the most. There would have been nothing sweeter than the team proving early-leavers wrong by turning this into an epic win.

Seton Hall must get it done in Omaha now. Playing in front of a raucous Creighton crowd against one of the most well-oiled teams in the nation is a rough ask, but the Hall are road warriors plus a shared regular season title would be incredibly anticlimactic after the Bluejays lost to St. John’s. As I voiced on Twitter, I personally think any title that can be shared, especially if the opponent you’re tied with swept you, comes with a bit of an asterisk. I’ll firmly say 1992-93 is still the last time Seton Hall has won a regular season title if they lose on Saturday — it’s a bit of a farce to me, really. This is the hill I’m going to die on. Head-to-head would give Creighton the top seed in New York, but the two teams would split the regular season spoils and a tri-champion scenario where Villanova also takes a piece isn’t out of the question either. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.

Post-game quotes from Kevin Willard, Myles Powell, and Quincy McKnight

Myles Powell on pregame ceremony: “Coach just said a few things to me, pretty much told me that he loved me and I heard the crowd start cheering and it caught up to me. I love this building, I love my fans, I love the university. It was just an emotional night for me, I just wish it would have turned out a little better.”

Powell on it being tough to play with such emotions: “I wouldn’t say it’s tough, this is what you dream of. It was more of a dream come true. I’m almost at the finish line of what I started. Not only on the basketball court, I took another step in life as a man. I’m graduating, I’m going to be the first one to graduate [in my family]. Next time I’m going to be in this building is when I receive my diploma. You guys know me, you know my story. I always say there’s better days ahead and that’s how I’m going to keep looking at it. We’re still number one in the conference, we still have a game up [on Creighton], we’ve been in this situation before. We’re built for this.”

Powell on receiving a standing ovation from fans as he walked off court, recognizing them: “I’m still emotional from the game from losing but my fans know that I love them [it seemed like he regretted not showing more love]. They’ve helped me up and they put the battery in my back every time I step onto the floor. I just want to say thank you to everybody. My family, my friends, my fans, you guys, it was a pleasure. I just wish we were having a different conversation. It’s hard, but I’m built for adversity. This definitely won’t break me.”

Quincy McKnight on Senior Night emotions: “The Senior Night ceremony was great. I felt the love from everybody, from top to bottom. I felt the love from everybody from all the workers in the Prudential Center, congratulating us, thanking us for everything we’ve done. Fans on the sidelines thanking us for everything we’ve done and when people like that are saying great things to you, it’s going to touch you a little bit and that’s what it did. Everybody loves us here and we love everybody. It was a great night, wish we could have got the win for our fans and for ourselves but we’ve just got to bounce back and get a big win at Creighton.”

Kevin Willard on the night’s emotions: “Myles is like my third son, so it’s different. I got a little emotional, but I’d been prepared for this for a while. This is different. We’ve gone through so many ups and downs off the court together and we’ve always stayed together, I think that’s why I love the kid so much. No matter what happens, we’ve always had each other’s back. It was emotional for me, but I got emotional last night at dinner, so for me, last night was more emotional than tonight. He [Powell] was worse last night than he was today. I thought his dad was going to kill him when he started crying.”

“Our senior nights have turned into something very special for these kids. I’ve had now — starting with Angel and Desi’s senior night, Mike’s senior night last year — we’ve had guys come in the program for four years, we’ve had a lot of guys stay for a long time. They become like your children, I hate to say this. I just saw Mike outside, and we’re talking about the stock market and what we’re going to do after the season. We’ve built something really good here, and kids love coming back here, kids really love playing here. Kids love being in the program, and when you see them for the last time on your home court, it’s emotional, it’s hard.”

Willard on final sequence of game: “With four seconds left, you have to look at it two ways: If you miss it and don’t get the rebound — which the odds are about 0.4 percent of total teams miss a free throw — and then you foul and they make both free throws, the game’s over. So by making both free throws and now they’re having trouble getting the basketball in, it gives you a chance at least to now have a shot if they make both, you could still tie it.

“If there was two seconds left in that range, then you have to miss it, but it couldn’t have worked out any better. We almost got a 5-second call and then they miss a free throw, we do exactly what we’re supposed to do and get a wide open shot. Again, pretty good for only having 3.4 seconds left.”

Willard on using the loss as fuel going forward: “Emotionally, it’s going to take us a long time to get over this one just because of senior night, but absolutely. It’s what I told the team. I said, ‘Guys, you know this was a great college game, two of the top teams in the country played against each other.’ I have so much respect for what Jay does with them and how they play, and this hurts right now, but it doesn’t take away anything from what this team has done all year long.

“The schedule we’ve played, the road wins we have — no matter what happens on Saturday, we’re still [Big East] co-champions, so to be in that situation? This will hurt tomorrow, but I have a lot of confidence in this team to kind of bounce back, and I think that’s the biggest thing.

“I’m struggling with Quincy and Myles a little bit, I’ve put a lot of miles on them and I’m trying to get them emotionally charged back up. This has been a grind, and our schedule has not helped the fact that we’ve played such a hard schedule and so many big games. My biggest goal right now is just to get those two guys emotionally charged back up, because it’s been a very emotional season for both of them.”

Willard on trade-off of going small to defend: “Jay went back to an old package which he used against St. John’s a little bit. He just went back to his old keep series, which he fakes a dribble handoff and he posts up and runs back for a re-screen, and they’re so good at moving and passing, getting to the lane and jump-stop. … So I think the biggest thing I’ve seen in the last three games is he’s kind of come back to his post package, kind of what he did with (Kris) Jenkins and that team, and that really threw us off. (Jeremiah) Robinson-Earl was being a pain in our butt, to be honest with you. Ro’s had a phenomenal year and he didn’t play great tonight, but he’s done so many great things for us.”