Seton Hall endured its fifth conference loss this season, falling at the hands of Butler 61-54 at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night. The loss, which drops Seton Hall to 3-5 and seventh overall in the Big East, can be summed up in one six-second sequence.
With the score 51-49 in favor of Butler, Seton Hall forward Michael Nzei denied Butler guard Avery Woodson at the doorstep, and Desi Rodriguez went out onto the open-court charge. It seemed like the moment when the Prudential Center would erupt, Seton Hall once again tying the game up with under five minutes to play.
Rodriguez looked poised to slam it home and send thousands of Blue and White faithful into a frenzy, but he elected to lay it in instead, and the ball tantalizingly rimmed out.
The game took many twists and turns to get to that climactic point, most of which were rooted in offensive inefficiency. Butler and Seton Hall combined to shoot 16.8 percent midway through the first half. For Seton Hall, it got as bad as 2-for-21, or 9.5 percent, with 8:30 left in the first half.
This inefficiency quickly devolved into toxic animosity as fans around the Prudential Center voiced their disappointment, and players visibly exerted their frustrations. The roof was caving in on the Pirates, but Angel Delgado and company would not go quietly into the night.
“We just [had] to keep our heads up,” Delgado said. “I tell the guys, every game is going to be like this, you’re not winning a game by 20 every game. It’s not happening, it’s not how basketball is. We just got to keep hard, keep playing through each play, because each possession counts.”
In the second half, two seismic yet relatively simple things changed for the Hall: Delgado was given the ball to post up down low, and most crucially, the shots began to fall. The comeback was ignited by Rodriguez, who hit two successive off-balance layups to cut the Butler lead from 37-28 to 37-34 with 13:29 remaining.
Ismael Sanogo’s defensive commitment went a long way as well, throwing his body on the floor to win a loose ball when everybody else had turned to run down the court. It was that play specifically which gave the Pirates another gear defensively.
The Pirates would use that gear to continue the push, ultimately taking the lead at 45-44 via a Myles Powell three-pointer with 6:33 to play. Butler captured the lead right back the very next possession, but this time Khadeen Carrington came up with the response, tying the score at 49.
Following a made free throw at the line for Butler came the transition miss by Rodriguez, which turned the momentum of the game. After the miss Butler would pull away; Kamar Baldwin hit a demoralizing three-pointer to give the Bulldogs a six-point lead, just a minute after the game had been tied.
The unlikely head dog for Butler down the stretch was Kethan Savage, a player who entered the game seventh in minutes, and averaging only 7.3 points per game. Savage hit two back-breaking shots that both times set Seton Hall back to a position of chasing the game.
With just over a minute remaining and long odds for the Pirates to steal a victory, it came down to Seton Hall trying to shut down Butler with a full shot clock in the Bulldogs’ favor. The Pirates were able to rise to the occasion and force a missed attempt, but the Bulldogs were first to the rebound, ending any hopes for a Blue and White win.
Despite the loss, Delgado became the first player in Big East history to record consecutive league games with 20 or more rebounds. The forward received praise from members of both teams. Butler head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game, “I think [Delgado] is a terrific player. I love his motor, I love the emotion he plays with. I think he is an absolute warrior.”
With the loss, Seton Hall drops to 1-6 against Butler in their last seven contests. The Hall will be back in action next Wednesday as the team takes on Xavier inside the Prudential Center. The Pirates have favored well against the Musketeers, winning their most recent two contests, one of which was in Newark on Feb. 25, when Xavier was ranked No. 5 in the nation.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.