Myles Powell and Michael Nzei have been here before.
When Powell was a freshman and Nzei was a redshirt sophomore, Seton Hall sat at 3-6 in Big East play at the halfway point of the conference schedule. The Pirates seemed destined for the NIT, until a late-season stretch featuring wins over two ranked opponents propelled them into the NCAA Tournament. The same applied last season, as a string of four consecutive losses in the middle of Big East play had Seton Hall fans pushing the panic button. By season’s end, the Pirates had locked up an NCAA Tournament bid and advanced to the Round of 32.
This season, Seton Hall finds itself in an eerily similar situation. Following a strong showing in non-conference play with wins over No. 9 Kentucky and Maryland, as well as a heart-stopping victory against St. John’s to open conference play, the Pirates seemed primed to continue their winning ways into January. Instead, following three straight losses, Seton Hall is 3-5 in the Big East and with an upcoming trip to Villanova, who Seton Hall has not beaten on the road since 1994, looming, it’s not going to get any easier for the Pirates to turn things around.
“My freshman year, we were 3-6 and last year, we lost three in a row,” Powell said following a 97-93 loss to DePaul on Jan. 19. “We found ourselves with our backs against the wall. Me and Mike both know what it takes to win. What we did in the past, we never let our heads drag. We came together as brothers, as teammates. We found it upon ourselves to win.”
The Pirates have been here before and have climbed out of holes larger than the one they face now. The difference between Seton Hall teams of the past that have overcome adversity and this one, though, is the inexperience of the group. The Pirates feature two freshmen in their rotation and even Quincy McKnight, who has two seasons of experience going through a conference schedule under his belt, is still adjusting to the rigors of the Big East. The key for Seton Hall to come out of its recent struggles will be for the veterans, Powell and Nzei, to step up and captain the ship as the Pirates navigate through the Big East waters.
“We always have team meetings and stuff,” Powell said. “The younger guys are going through a long season. It’s their first time going through it all. We just have to find it upon ourselves, like I keep saying, to have the will to win.”
“The older guys, Mike Nzei and Myles Powell, they’ve been through this before,” said coach Kevin Willard. “We’re only seven games into conference play. It’s not like we’re 17. We have a lot of time.”
Despite the challenge that lies ahead, Seton Hall has no intention of giving up after beginning the season 12-3. Counting out the Pirates now would be a mistake. They have made a habit out of overcoming rough mid-season stretches over the past couple of seasons and it would not be a shock to see them do it again in 2019.
“We have to find it in ourselves to pull it together and get back on our feet,” Powell said. “It’s not going to get done unless we do it. We have to find ways to get it done. We’ve faced adversity before. We’re going to figure it out. We have positive people in our group and I know we’re going to come back, figure it out and win games. I know we’re going to do better.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.