The TD Arena was covered with blue in the stands, a similar sight to Newark’s Prudential Center some 700 miles away from Charleston, S.C., on Thursday. In the end, Seton Hall fell 80-77 to Justin Bibbins and Long Beach State.
The Pirates found themselves down by 16 points to the 49ers with under 11 minutes remaining in the contest, but their rally attempt ended in disappointment.
Khadeen Carrington finished third in scoring for Seton Hall with 15 points, but no shot was more important than the three-pointer the Brooklyn native missed as the final buzzer sounded.
“When you only have six seconds left and you don’t have a timeout, it’s a hard thing not having a timeout,” Willard said in regard to Carrington taking the last shot over star guard Isaiah Whitehead. “He fumbled the ball, and when he fumbled it, I think he had to try just to put it up. You want him with the ball because he is able to create for people. I think he just fumbled it and it was tough for him.”
For the 49ers, it was a tale of two halves for their scoring. Senior Nick Faust dictated the momentum of the game by hitting his first three three-point attempts to total 11 at the intermission. He would finish with 16. Junior Travis Hammond stepped into the scoring role for the latter half, making 2-of-3 long-range shots, including a pair of free throws on a one-and-one to seal the win for Long Beach.
As the second half belonged to the Blue and White, it came on the back of Whitehead, who scored 14 of his 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting, with 11 of those points coming right when the Pirates began their late push.
Willard spoke about his sophomore leader’s resurgence in the second half.
“I think we got more opportunities when we got a couple more stops,” the coach said. “Not many, but we got a couple more stops that he was able to get out on the break. They (Long Beach) couldn’t get out and zone in on him, and I think he did a good job of attacking off the misses and not letting them set up their defense”.
The biggest question mark of the second half belonged to the bench—where Angel Delgado remained as Michael Nzei and Ismael Sanogo played a combined 29 minutes to Delgado’s seven.
The reigning Big East Rookie of the Year could only watch as his fellow young big men battled in the paint.
“They were small, so we went with Mike and Ish to kind of match up just a little bit better.” Willard said. “[It] kind of helped us a little bit, just because we were able to switch pick-and-rolls a little more consistent on the defensive end. He (Delgado) was having a hard time matching up…just because of their size.”
When he was in, Delgado played his worst game of the young season, pulling down just five rebounds and scoring only eight points while struggling in his niche—right under the basket.
In his absence, Sanogo thrived for his third outstanding game of his breakout season, finishing with seven points and 10 rebounds.
It was a game of missed opportunities for Seton Hall, as the team cracked down on the 49ers’ shooters, forcing them to miss six of their last seven shots. During that span, with 8.4 seconds remaining on the clock, Hammonds choked on a one-and-one during his first trip to the line.
The ball rattled off the right iron, directly to graduate transfer Derrick Gordon, who missed the rebound and let it slip right to the hands of—who else?—Hammonds. Fouled again with 6.1 seconds remaining, the junior seized his second opportunity and made both shots, extending Long Beach’s lead to 80-77. It was fitting for the Columbia, S.C., native to play like he was right at home.
With the loss, the Pirates miss a chance of taking on Virginia, the No. 6 team in the country, as Seton Hall slides into the loser’s bracket along with Ole Miss and Towson.