Since taking over the program in 2010, Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard had never witnessed a more dismal defensive performance than the one the Pirates turned in against DePaul on Saturday night.
Behind 52 percent shooting from the field, a 90 percent showing at the free throw line and an eye-popping 42-19 advantage on the glass which resulted in 25 second-chance points, DePaul nearly hit the century mark and completed the season sweep of Seton Hall with a 97-93 win. The 97 points were the most Seton Hall has allowed under Willard at home and the most by any Pirate team since 2006.
“Obviously in the second half, they dominated with the inside game, but I thought we had some breakdowns in the first half that really hurt us,” Willard said. “We couldn’t get a stop or a rebound in the second half.”
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Throughout the evening, Seton Hall could not keep DePaul off the glass no matter what it tried to do down low. It was essentially a one-man effort underneath, as no other Seton Hall player besides Sandro Mamukelashvili grabbed more than two rebounds.
“We didn’t get to look at the box score, but as soon as the game ended, coach told us that it was unacceptable that Sandro was the only one to get 10 rebounds and nobody else got over two rebounds, said Myles Powell, who finished with 24 points. “We can’t rely on just Sandro to get rebounds. We have to go back, watch film and learn as a unit. We scored 93 points at home and we still lost. That’s hard to do.”
“That happened to us in the first game [against DePaul], it happened again tonight,” Willard said. “We let them get in the lane a little bit too much. Whether it’s dribble penetration or coming off screens, if you have to step up and help, it gets you out of rebounding position. Sandro did a great job fighting all night, but we let guys get into the lane too much and it’s putting pressure on our guys.”
The opening minutes of action were a sign of things to come, as Seton Hall led 13-12 at the under-16 timeout behind a strong start from Quincy McKnight, who finished with 25 points on 9-11 shooting in arguably his best game as a Pirate. By the under-eight timeout, hot shooting from Myles Cale helped Seton Hall build a 31-26 lead. Cale had 16 of his 19 points in the first half and shot 4-5 from beyond the arc in that time.
Coming out of the timeout, DePaul and its leading scorer Max Strus started to get going. Strus, who finished with 22 points, drained two consecutive threes to tie the game at 32 and prompt a Seton Hall timeout. A four-point play by Strus made it 48-42 DePaul with 1:26 remaining in the first half, but Seton Hall ended the half on a 7-0 run capped by a Sandro Mamukelashvili three pointer at the buzzer to take a 49-48 lead into the locker room.
Seton Hall’s run at the end of the first half did not deter DePaul from coming out of the locker room on fire, as the Blue Demons opened the second half on a 7-0 run. As DePaul maintained its rhythm from the field, the Blue Demons also continued to open up a sizeable difference on the glass. At the under-eight timeout, DePaul had a 30-15 advantage and its ability to extend possessions made it tough for the Pirates over take the Blue Demons. Also working against Seton Hall during this stretch was the absence of Romaro Gill, who missed his third straight game with an ankle injury.
“Ro is a big loss. It’s weird how the scheduling can sometimes get you where you can play a time like this and you really need Ro,” Willard said.
By the 7:22 mark, DePaul had opened up a six-point lead and seemed primed to put Seton Hall away. However, a four-point play by Myles Powell coming out of a timeout put the Pirates right back in the thick of things. As the under-four timeout approached, Seton Hall only faced a four-point deficit. A corner three from Mamukelashvili cut DePaul’s lead to 87-84 with 2:13 remaining in regulation, but that was the closest Seton Hall would get for the rest of the game. A string of untimely fouls and a failure to get stops allowed DePaul to close out the Pirates and hand Seton Hall its seventh loss of the season.
Seton Hall will benefit from a week off, but the schedule does not get any easier from here on out. A trip to Villanova awaits on Jan. 27, as the Pirates will travel to take on the Wildcats in the hopes of snapping their losing streak.
“We’re down right now, but I know we’re going to come back and we’re going to figure it out,” Powell said. “I’m not worried,
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.