The Seton Hall women’s basketball team answered the question of whether or not it would be able to carry over intensity and play from a hard-fought loss to Creighton last Sunday, defeating Xavier at home in another tight contest, 71-62.
The first quarter featured both sides delivering solid opening blows. Maddison Blackwell and Kaela Hilaire paced their respective sides, with the freshman Hilaire totaling seven while the senior Blackwell added four.
In the second frame, the Pirates came out flying. Claire Lundberg hit a three from the corner that ignited the crowd, and on the ensuing possession, Deja Winters stole a pass and ran down the court, scoring in transition to help the Pirates go on a 7-0 run with 6:24 left in the half.
Just as it looked like things were beginning to play out for a relatively straight-forward Pirate victory, the likes of which fans in South Orange haven’t seen since early in the non-conference season, Xavier responded.
First, it was Kindell Fincher hitting a crucial three to end a 9-0 run for the Pirates. Next, it was Hilaire, who bossed the first quarter but threw the ball into traffic, leading to a Xavier basket in transition. With that swing, the later portion of the second quarter took a much different complexion than the earlier portion, and Seton Hall went to the half with only a five-point, 36-31 lead.
Xavier came out in the second half continuing the wave of momentum that got it back into the game. The Musketeers got a three and a two from Marqia Turner to tie the game, followed by a one-for-two trip to the line from Imani Partlow to give them their first lead since the opening minute of the game.
The Pirates’ offensive response came through Jayla Jones-Pack, a player who is normally known for her blocks and not for her low-post scoring ability. Jones-Pack muscled her way into space and banked one in. Hilaire later found Jones-Pack open again, and Jones-Pack made Xavier pay with another finish around the rim. Jones-Pack finished the night with a stat line of eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
With the Pirates in front as the minutes counted down, the home side needed just a few offensive conversions, coupled with stops on the defensive end to get their third Big East win of the season. Jones-Pack gave the Pirates the lead back, but it was Hilaire and LaTecia Smith who tied the bow on the win.
Hilaire responded from a down game by her standards against Creighton with a team-leading 16 point performance, two of those points coming late in the fourth quarter to all but seal the victory.
“I knew I had to come out better,” Hilaire said, adding that “it definitely started on the defensive side. My defense gave me an easier time on offense.”
Just in case there was any doubt, LaTecia Smith made sure the Pirates would be on their way to the side’s third Big East win of the season with a steal and finish in transition. Smith finished the game second on the team in scoring with 11 points, but perhaps most impressively limited Xavier’s leading scorer Raeshaun Gaffney to only 10 points.
Smith said after the game that defending Gaffney well was “the key to the game.” Smith added that “we emphasized [Gaffney]. We weren’t going to let her score more than 12 points. We just stayed on her [in practice], and when I came into the game it was a lot easier.”
The Pirates will be back in Walsh Gymnasium this Sunday afternoon as they face Butler, and head coach Tony Bozzella is already looking forward to a chance for the Pirates to redeem themselves after a tough loss to the Bulldogs earlier in the season.
“I think we got to worry about Butler because Butler kicked our butt,” Bozzella said. “The score wasn’t that bad in that game, but they were up 15 to 20, almost laughing at us at times; scoring easy shots, rebounding, out-hustling. You know it was a real low point in the season for us…We’re going to have to be confident and play well; play even better than we’ve played.”
Of course, that earlier contest against Butler was in Indianapolis, while this Sunday, the contest will take place in South Orange. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.
James Justice can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.