Seton Hall fell oh-so-short late on Wednesday night in front of 9,000-plus at Prudential Center, but there are plenty of positives to take from the Hall’s 72-71 loss to No. 4 Villanova despite a nail-biting barrage of missed chances over the closing minutes.
I thought it semi-foreshadowing when the engaged crowd was drawn to their feet four possessions in a row prior to the final media timeout as Seton Hall kept bringing the game within a bucket. But a Villanova squad with Daniel Ochefu glued to the pine with foul trouble just kept answering.
That’s what top-five teams do: get it done in the clutch.
“I thought defensively we didn’t switch on Arch, we gave up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw,” recalled Kevin Willard about his team’s defense down the stretch. “You’ve got to get stops, more than anything we have to focus on how to get stops toward the end of the game.”
While Seton Hall’s end-game defense could have done better — the Ryan Arcidiacono basket that Willard is referring to was an uncontested go-ahead lay-up with 30 ticks left — their offense also came up short over several possessions in the closing minutes.
Derrick Gordon was stuffed twice on the baseline just feet in front of me, the Hall turned it over on an inbounds play with 8 seconds left plus a timeout to spare, and Isaiah Whitehead took a couple tough, contested runners on the opposite side of the basket that fans have been pinpointed as costing the team the game; Isaiah finished with 21 points (6-18 fg) and 5 assists.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright and Willard both disagree with Hall fans.
While Wright commended his team’s defense on Whitehead late in the game, he admitted just how effective the sophomore point guard was throughout the other 35 minutes, especially in the second half.
“During the other portions of the game, we just had no answers for Whitehead,” said Wright. “He just killed us.”
“I thought he got a really nice rhythm off the middle pick-and-roll, he scored four straight times off it,” defended Willard when asked about Whitehead’s play down the stretch.
“There’s a time when you’ve got to shoot and there’s times when you’ve got to pass and that’s part of the learning process,” said Willard, indirectly referencing the immediate claim that Whitehead’s shot selection was poor.
“I think he’s done a phenomenal job of growing into the point guard role, considering he wasn’t even playing at this time last year because he was hurt. This is his first full [year] going through it and I think he’s done a phenomenal job.”
At first that seemed like another baseless defense of his players from Willard, but he obtusely admitted post-game that the end-game execution could have been better.
“I have a lot of confidence in Isaiah and Khadeen,” said Willard when asked if Isaiah took contested, hero-like shots late on.
“Although they’re sophomores, I’m going to let them make plays towards the end of the game, and they know that. They have tremendous confidence in themselves, which they should have,” said Willard of his two starting guards.
“We’ve just got to learn from those possessions [down the stretch], how to get a better one. I’m going to let them do what they do best and that’s play. I thought all of them played their hearts out, so I don’t think one guy did anything different than anybody else.”
Despite seeing some familiar less-than-stellar half court execution coming out of timeouts, Seton Hall certainly followed up their upset of Providence last weekend with a positive result.
With Angel Delgado effectively taking Ochefu (6 pts, 3 rebs) out of the game by drawing fouls after The Chief earned KenPom MVP honors in the last three games against him, Seton Hall smartly drove at will to the basket — outscoring Nova 32-22 in the paint — though they were ultimately shut down in the end as back-up forward Darryl Reynolds and other Wildcats chipped in defensively.
Jay Wright was genuinely astonished at how Seton Hall was able to keep getting in the lane — Wright said he’d have to check tape to see how they were able to do it — and gave a short, simple, and honest answer when asked if the Pirates are a tournament team.