All Shawn Walsh wanted for his birthday party was to see a Seton Hall win over Villanova.
“I asked him about eight weeks ago, ‘What do you want to do for your 10th birthday?” Shawn’s father, Tom, recalled. “We transitioned out of jumpy houses and laser tag and his request was to go to a Seton Hall basketball game.”
Shawn’s affinity for the Pirates comes from his cousin and aunt, who attend and teach at Seton Hall, respectively. He’s been to games before, but he hoped Seton Hall’s Feb. 18 matchup against the Wildcats would make for an extra special birthday treat.
Shawn didn’t get his wish – No. 2 Villanova beat SHU 92-70 – but the youngster sporting a Pirates t-shirt reading “I’ve Got Game” did witness some history. He, along with his father and a few friends, was part of a 16,733-person Prudential Center crowd.
— Seton Hall MBB (@SetonHallMBB) February 18, 2017
The number forced the arena to open its upper curtains and shattered Seton Hall’s previous attendance at The Rock, a mark of 13,569 set against former Big East foe Syracuse on Feb. 6, 2012. Seton Hall more than doubled its average attendance of 7,712.
“We’ve opened the entire upper level except for one curtain,” Associate Athletics Director for Internal Affairs, Jim Semerad, said before the game. “We had so much demand a couple weeks ago that we had to open up the south end zone of the student section because the demand from the students was so great.”
Whether it was kids like Shawn, those in the student section or fans sitting in the nosebleeds, it was a noticeably loud atmosphere before Villanova began to run away with the game in the second half.
“It was great and our students were phenomenal – they’ve been phenomenal all year,” Kevin Willard said. “I just wish we would’ve gave them more to cheer about.”
The home crowd did little to impact Villanova’s play, but it did force the team to show up a little late. Villanova head coach Jay Wright spoke of the impact fans had prior to the game.
“We were a little bit late getting into the building just because of so many people out front and the bus couldn’t get through because of the traffic,” Wright said. “We could just sense the environment and then when you walked out it was a great college basketball environment – I think of one of the unique environments in the country.”
Semerad hopes to make such crowds a more common in Newark.
“Once we start selling out the lower bowl on a consistent basis we’re gonna really start thinking hard about opening the upper level on a more consistent basis,” he said. “It’s great to do it for one or two games a year, but if we can do it four or five games a year – that’s always been our goal since we came to the Prudential Center.”
Quite the crowd here in Newark. Seton Hall-Villanova coming up! pic.twitter.com/ZXQCtc56dJ
— The Setonian Sports (@SetonianSports) February 18, 2017
Kyle Kasharian can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.