DENVER – Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong as Seton Hall crashed out of the first round of the NCAA tournament in a 68-52 loss to Gonzaga late on Thursday night.
Seton Hall shot 32-percent from the field including a 4-of-24 shooting performance from Isaiah Whitehead (10p, 8a) that the leading scorer would label “my worst shooting performance [of the season].” For Gonzaga, center Domantas Sabonis (21p, 16r, 4a) was an absolute beast in the block from start to finish and clearly changed the game.
The contest began with a bang until the first media timeout, after which the pace slowed into a tempo that favored Gonzaga pretty much the rest of the way.
After a shaky start, Seton Hall’s defense picked it up by creating deflections, but their offense imploded and wasn’t able to capitalize as the Pirates failed to register a field goal over the final 8:40 of the first half; the Hall finished the game with just .72 points per possession, a season low.
“I thought we had a couple opportunities in the first half to kind of calm our nerves,” lamented Kevin Willard. “We missed a couple free throws. We missed a couple open looks. You just can’t do that against such a good basketball team.”
“We just wanted to win so bad, we sped the game up when we didn’t have to,” said Isaiah Whitehead of his team’s offensive struggles.
“We were just being too fast on offense and not patient like we usually are,” said Derrick Gordon, who played his final collegiate game. “That’s my job, I should have stepped in and calmed everything down.”
Trailing by 10 at the half, Seton Hall finally got their attack into gear early in the second period but Gonzaga — whether it was Sabonis or a crafty Kyle Wiltjer (13p, 7r) kept answering time after time.
After trailing by 10-plus points for a long stretch, Seton Hall was able to cut their deficit to just six with 6:51 to play despite Sanogo leaving the game with a dislocated shoulder and shortly after a Kevin Willard technical that was a long-time coming.
In a game that was blatantly marred by officiating from the Seton Hall and even a neutral perspective, Willard picked up his second tech of the year after Derrick Gordon (10p, 4r) was clobbered on a drive to the basket midway through the second half.
“We had ‘em, but we got some tough calls,” said Whitehead of his team’s surge to get within six.
“Just throwing the ball in the post, blowing the whistle, [they] kept calling a foul. We came out here to play basketball and we got a tough whistle.”
Gonzaga answered the Hall’s push with an 8-0 run that coincided with 3:30 field goal drought from the Pirates which ultimately put the final nail in their coffin.
“It’s tough playing out here, but there’s no excuses,” said Whitehead. “When you make the tournament you’ve got to be ready to play wherever they put you. We tried our best and came up short.”