After opening up the season 9-1, their best start since 1988-1989, the Pirates began Big East conference play on Tuesday afternoon in front of a sold out Prudential Center with a loss to West Virginia, 90-84.
The Pirates did not go easily, as they took the Mountaineers into overtime, thanks to junior guard Jeremy Hazell’s game high 41 points.
With less than 15 seconds remaining in regulation and the Hall down 77-74, Hazell received the ball off of a pass at the top of the key from senior guard Eugene Harvey. Instead of driving closer to arc or passing the ball, Hazell pulled the trigger on a deep three pointer with about eight seconds left and was able to tie the game 77-77 and send it into overtime.
Despite getting possession in overtime, the Pirates did not have enough as the Mountaineers came out with five straight points in overtime. Missed free throws in the extra period, which was a reoccurring theme throughout the afternoon, hurt the Hall as well.
The key for WVU in overtime was that they made five of their six from the foul line, including three big ones by De’Sean Butler. That, on top of a big trifecta from Kevin Jones halfway through the period, gave the Mountaineers a lead that would never surrender.
In the first half, the Mountaineers jumped out to a quick 15-5 lead.
The early problem for the Pirates offensively was ball movement. Sophomore forward Herb Pope scored the first five points for Seton Hall, and was the only player on the board until Hazell made a free throw six and a half minutes into the game.
The struggles for the Hall continued as WVU did not let up their resilient offensive attack, as the Mountaineers extended their lead to 20-12 at the 12 minute mark with Devin Ebanks at the free throw line.
Ebanks ended the game with a team high 22 points and 17 rebounds.
Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez even praised the guard in the post game press conference, openly admitting that a majority of the scouts in attendance were there for Ebanks.
The Pirates were able to mount a comeback as the half was winding down with about five minutes left.
The run began when sophomore guard Jordan Theodore hit a free throw to pull the Hall within ten.
From there Hazell scored four points in a row before WVU’s Ebanks hit both of his free throws, giving the Mountaineers a 33-25 lead.
That did not stop the Pirates. Hazell was able to hit a three pointer, and in combination with junior Jamel Jackson’s long two pointer, Seton Hall made it a one possession ballgame.
Hazell put up one of his four three pointers, out of his record 19 attempts, of the game with just under four minutes left in the half to tie the game, 33-33.
“If you hold him back too much he’s not going to make the ones you need him to make,” Gonzalez said about Hazell’s frequent shooting tendencies.
The teams exchanged buckets in the final minutes of the half, and the Pirates went to the locker room at halftime trailing 41-39.
Both teams come out in the second half and focused on defense. Only six points were scored in the first five minutes of the half.
The Pirates were relying on Gonzalez’s signature press defense, and it proved effective early on..
However, later in the half the Hall began having trouble making free throws, which weakened the press defense. They shot 46 percent from the free throw line in the second half, and overall went 16-33.
“As a press team we have to make free throws,” Gonzalez said. “When we miss second free throws that’s like a dagger in the heart.”
Gonzalez expressed his concern for second free throws because when the team misses them it’s harder to effectively get into position to execute the press.
Highlighting the Pirates’ woes at the free throw line was Pope, who went 1-10.
“I didn’t execute, I had to step up,” Pope said. “It’s very contagious (missing free throws), and I set the tone for everyone.”
West Virginia began to capitalize on the Pirates miscues midway through the half. With nine minutes left WVU was up by nine before the Hall was able to make a minor push.
Jackson hit a three pointer to pull the Pirates within four at 59-55.
Minutes later Pope answered with a slam dunk to make it a three point game before the Mountaineers made their final run of the half.
Three quick layups by WVU and a pair of free throws by Butler in a span of three minutes gave his team what seemed like a comfortable ten point lead with a minute left in the game.
Harvey had two free throws and freshman forward Ferrakohn Hall added a dunk that lead to a dramatic Hazell three pointer with 17 seconds left.
Two more free throws by Butler with 13 seconds remaining gave WVU a 77-74 lead, and proved important because seconds later Hazell sent the game to overtime.
“We wanted to go out there and get the next stop,” Theodore said when asked what the plan was going into the final minute of regulation. “We stayed positive, we are fighters.”
Seton Hall continues conference play this Tuesday when they host No. 5 ranked Syracuse at the Prudential Center.
“We’re 0-1,” Gonzalez said. “But we still have 17 wars left.”
Nicholas Parco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.