Despite pleading chants from the crowd, Charles Oakley – the Knicks fan favorite who was recently banned from Madison Square Garden – never showed up for Saturday’s St. John’s-Seton Hall game.
Neither did the Pirates.
Seton Hall, in its second trip to the World’s Greatest Arena this season, fell to the Red Storm, 78-70. The eight-point difference was not reflective of the Pirates’ performance, however. Down by as much as 16 in the second half, the Pirates struggled to take care of the ball all day. Eighteen turnovers led to 30 points for SJU.
“Our turnovers really kind of stopped our momentum and gave them some,” Kevin Willard noted.
St. John’s controlled the game for much of the afternoon, a drastic difference from when the two teams met in Newark on Jan. 22. That day belonged to the Pirates, who won 86-73.
Saturday was all St. John’s, though. Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds led the way with 19 and 17 points, respectively, while Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriquez matched Ponds. Playing without Ismael Sanogo (ankle), the Pirates were matched in the paint, as both squads had 36 points down low. The Red Storm tenaciously protected the rim however, recording nine blocks.
Seton Hall’s frontcourt of Angel Delgado (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Mike Nzei (11 points, 12 rebounds) both recorded double-doubles, but it was not enough for SHU.
Now, the Pirates are 5-7 in Big East play and in danger of missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid. The Hall has three straight home games coming up against Creighton, Villanova and Xavier, all of which own spots in the AP Top 25.
“We just talked about that in the locker room,” Willard said. “We still have a great opportunity coming in front of us. We got three home games, all great teams, all good teams like this conference is. We have to step up to the challenge.”
Khadeen Carrington, who scored 14 in the loss, echoed his coach. He said the Pirates need to take a step by step approach as they prepare for the home stand.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” the guard said. “We’re not saying that we have to go 3-0 right now.”
Willard is not ready to abandon hope on March Madness just yet.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys going forward,” Willard said. “I love the effort they play with. I love the battle they play with. We just have to take advantage of our opportunity now.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.