Wagner Notebook: “That’s not even the Myles Powell we’ve seen”

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Seton Hall dominated Wagner over the closing 30 minutes en route to a commanding 89-49 win to jump-start a new era. Quotes from Kevin Willard, Myles Powell, Mike Nzei and some of my thoughts to recap an encouraging opener.

Five Thoughts

Myles Powell did the heavy lifting in the scoring column, but this was a collective effort. Ten guys with a rebound 14 minutes into the game. Four players with 3+ assists at the end of the game. Just eight turnovers, despite significant low-importance basketball down the stretch. A nine-man rotation (not including Romaro Gill, who was 5th off the pine) that yielded 27 bench points. Quite the difference compared to a top-heavy group a year ago.

This team loves to push the pace. The average length of possession stats aren’t out yet, but the naked eye says that Seton Hall was flying down the court after clamping down on the defensive glass last night, as advertised. While improved ball movement will help in the half court, you know that better teams are really going to key on Myles Powell and make life difficult, so any opportunities that the Pirates can generate outside of their half court offense will be huge.

We’ve seen Willard’s early rotation. Taurean Thompson and Anthony Nelson off the bench before the first timeout for Sandro Mamukelashvili and Mike Nzei. Then Jared Rhoden and Shavar Reynolds as the third and fourth guys somewhere between the first and second timeouts. Romaro Gill then came off the bench after the second media timeout to make it a nine, maybe ten-man rotation (for now). Willard has a ton of capable options — Rhoden played within himself and is going to be an option on the wing, Reynolds was a glue guy who impressed in multiple facets — it’ll just be about playing his cards right and developing them properly as the year goes on.

Seton Hall was efficient. 10-24 from long range, 19-25 from the line (12-14 over first 30 minutes), a 20:8 assist-to-turnover ratio, 24-10 rebounding margin at the half, 1.4 points per possession. All of these statistical vital signs checked out when the game was remotely close last night.

It felt like Wagner was hanging around before Myles Powell hit a long three from the wing to go up 41-27 with 1:06 to play in the first half. But instead of being pleased, Kevin Willard absolutely laid into his guys during a 30-second Wagner timeout. The result? A 12-0 run around the halftime break and much-improved defense, they never looked back. More on this below.

Five Quotes (And one)

Myles Powell on what Kevin Willard told him early in the first half when he yanked him: “Coach told me coming in– the first two minutes I was gun-shy I didn’t really want to shoot. He took me out and told me he was going to need me to score the ball and I came back out and I did it. He said ‘Just shoot the ball, you shoot it all the time in practice why aren’t you shooting it now?’. When you have a coach who has that confidence in you it’s hard to lack confidence.

Mike Nzei on how it felt playing with a new group: “Last year we were together for a long time so everybody knew what everybody could do. This team is a whole new team so we understand for us to move forward we need to learn to play together, so that’s why you see Coach is trying to get everybody in the mix to see what we can do.”

Kevin Willard on Myles Powell’s showing: “That’s not even the Myles Powell we’ve seen. I didn’t think he played good. Once he gets in game shape… I know his numbers are phenomenal so I can’t say. But he missed three shots thought (laughs). Just wait. I’ve been thinking I think he’s one of the best players in the country for a reason. Once he gets in game shape you’re going to see a lot of those, in my opinion. He’s a special player.”

Willard on Taurean Thompson being back: “Q, Taurean, Ro’, I thought Ro’ looked really nervous compared to the way he looked at Boston College. I have a lot of confidence in how Taurean is going to progress. He was super excited to finally get out there. We’ve got to get him to be a little more simpler on offense but you saw he can make shots and he’s a bear in the post when he wants to do it. As he calms down and gets in the flow of things he’s going to get better and better.”

Willard when I asked about him being livid in huddle at end of first half after Powell three: “I think the biggest thing, this is going to come out bad — Twitter is going to kill me. I have to coach this team a lot more than I did last year. I’m still getting used to that where I would let some things go with the older guys, I’d let them slide. I can’t let the young guys slide … It was more or less to get the young guys the importance of closing out the first half. I would always know that the older guys would do certain things and I would let them slide on certain things. But they never got to slide when they were freshmen and sophomores, never. They got it all the time. So it’s kind of getting back to that mentality of making sure the young guys understand certain situations, that they understand how important the last three minutes of the first half are, how important the first four minutes of the second half, how important timeouts are. It’s what those guys went through their freshman and sophomore years, I’m giving it a lot to these guys now.”

Powell, on the same huddle: “He was just upset we were giving up open threes. It seemed like every time we had them down 12 or 14 they came back and hit a three. Our hands were down, all week in practice he was just stressing they like to hit threes — that got under his skin.”