Pirates prevail as tables turn in final minutes
In a game of contrasting styles where the Pirates trailed late, the hardy Seton Hall women’s basketball team overcame Xavier on Friday night by a final score of 58-53.
With momentum swinging throughout the evening, a boiling-over of emotions under the basket with 3:19 to play proved to be the act that swung the pendulum in the Pirates favor. Down 50-47, Inja Butina was fouled on a drive to the basket by Xavier’s A’riana Gray, who subsequently received a technical foul in a skirmish under the basket. After the free-throw dust had settled, Seton Hall went up 51-50 and did not give the lead back.
Butina led the team with 17 points on the evening but chalked up her performance to simply following the directions of head coach Tony Bozzella.
“Coach tells everyone to just do our thing and attack,” Butina said. “It’s whoever is free and whoever is open.”
The Pirates came out of the gate strong, with Butina knocking down a three-pointer for the early advantage. However, as the first quarter progressed, nothing seemed to fall for the Pirates. At the first media timeout, Xavier led 7-5 and remained up by one as the first quarter ended.
The second quarter started slowly for both teams, but it was eventually the Pirates who took control. With four minutes left, Jayla Jones-Pack powered her way to the hoop for a lay-in and followed it with a surprise three-pointer that gave Seton Hall a 20-14 lead. The shot from deep got the whole bench on its feet.
The second half ended with a Nicole Jimenez bucket from beyond the arc, giving the Pirates an eight-point lead heading into the break.
Despite the positives Seton Hall had before the half, not many translated early when the teams returned. Xavier went on a 16-1 run in the opening 6:42 of the third quarter, swiftly regaining the lead from the Pirates and starting to pull away in the process.
JaQuan Jackson, who had a quiet night for her standards, was the one to break the nearly six-minute scoring spell for Seton Hall with a three-point play that cut Xavier’s lead to four with 3:01 remaining in the penultimate quarter.
With 3:19 remaining, both sides erupted with Butina’s drive to the basket sparking a shove from Gray, earning her both a technical and personal foul. Butina then converted on her four free throws in a calm fashion to give Seton Hall its first lead of the quarter. A highlight play from Kaela Hilaire, Butina and Shadeen Samuels ensured the victory.
Looking back on the turbulent effort, Bozzella gave full credit to his team for remaining strong mentally, as well as the nearly 800 in attendance for staying engaged throughout.
“I thought we were very resilient today,” Bozella said. “It’s not easy to be resilient when the shots aren’t falling and you’re not playing well. When we made our run, [the fans] were fantastic and that’s why we have great fans. I love our fans and they mean so much to us.”
Bozzella is well aware of the hardships that come with Big East play and did not underplay the significance of the victory for the team.
“You’re not going to play your best all the time, and our margin for error is obviously very small,” Bozella said. “But we found a way to win and for us to get this win was very important.”
With the win, Seton Hall is now even at 6-6 in the Big East, tied with St. John’s for fifth place. The team is back in action at Walsh Gymnasium on Feb. 4 when it takes on the Butler Bulldogs. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KMKTNF.