Kiera Alexander/Asst. Photography Editor
Seton Hall battled back after an ugly start to the second half on Wednesday night against Providence, avenging its Jan. 15 loss with a 65-63 victory.
Although it was not textbook by any means, the win snaps a four-game losing streak for the Pirates. Providence’s 20-4 run to open the second half seemed to be too much for Seton Hall to handle, but timely shots by Myles Powell and solid support play by Michael Nzei and Taurean Thompson flipped the script.
“We got down seven, our heads kind of dropped,” Powell said. “(Quincy McKnight) got the huddle together and he said ‘Get these negative faces off your face.’ Him saying that, we said ‘We’re good’ and we came out and fought back.”
Powell ended with a game-high 31 points, including 17 of the team’s 34 first half points, while accumulating his fourth 30-or-more point performance of the season. It was a signature performance from the team’s star, and one that it desperately needed after a three-point performance at Villanova and a 12-point performance against Providence earlier in the month.
“The biggest thing is that I told the team the other day, ‘Guys, we can’t go five minutes without Myles Powell touching the ball,’” Kevin Willard said. “We got here riding his back. Let’s not play make believe, this is the guy that’s gotten us here. There are times where we’re going too long without him touching the basketball. I thought he came out from the start being aggressive. I thought that really set the tone.”
The exclamation point on the come-from-behind victory came from Powell as well, as he forced a steal and threw down a dunk with 1:46 to play and forced Providence to use a timeout.
“I was just in attack-mode today,” Powell said. “I told my teammates coming in that I was locked in and I was going to do whatever it takes for us to win. My shot hasn’t been falling in the last couple of games, I’ve been in a slump, so I took it upon myself and told myself that I was going to take it to the rack.”
“I just think his sense of urgency tonight on both ends was great,” Willard said. “Playing the 39 minutes that he played, at the level he played, just showed how much this meant to him.”
Despite looking poor on the scoresheet, another difference in the second half for the Pirates proved to be ball management. Through the first half, Seton Hall had 15 turnovers, and 14 minutes into the second half, the team only had one and finished with four for the entirety of the final frame.
The Pirates’ sloppy play to begin the game was not just a problem for them, however, as Providence turned the ball over nearly the same amount. Through 10 minutes of play, the score was only 14-10.
Seton Hall was eventually able to come alive after the under-eight media timeout, picking up a few quick baskets to take a 18-13 lead. That would extend to a 24-15 advantage after a Powell step back jumpshot, and then another drive by Powell at the end of the half gave Seton Hall a 34-27 lead heading into the seesaw second half.
Following the 20-4 run by Providence to open the second half, Seton Hall clawed back to within two after a few quick points by Powell and a dunk by Romaro Gill. From there, it was entirely back and forth, with the game staying within reach for both teams until the final buzzer.
With 22.1 second left, Makai Ashton-Langford traveled and gave Seton Hall back the ball and foul shots to take. Myles Cale, who finished with two points, missed the first one and gave Providence the ball back with 18.9 ticks left. Providence threatened, but a block under the rim by Gill with less than two seconds to go sealed the victory.
“Once we get (Gill) back, I think it’ll be a difference maker for us,” Willard said. “We’ve missed him. He doesn’t have his timing back yet and doesn’t know the offenses, but as he continues to get his sea legs back, he’s going to be a big boost for us.”
Gill’s presence in the rest of game could not be understated either, as he brought down seven rebounds and two points. Gill immensely helps rectify Seton Hall’s rebounding woes while he was out, as the Pirates outrebounded the Friars 38-28. Both of Willard’s talking points to his team after the embarrassing Villanova loss on Jan. 27 were executed to perfection in the game tonight.
“We did 30 minutes of box-out drills (on Monday),” Willard said. “If we rebound the basketball, we have a chance to win. But we can’t not rebound and turn the ball over.”
The win puts the Pirates back in the win column finally and saves hope for a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament birth if they can play well down the stretch.
“That’s what we were telling each other all week in practice, that we had to come back with our backs against the wall,” Powell said. “We were in a four-game losing streak. Me and (Nzei) being the captains, we have been in this position before. We just kept our composure, we went to practice, we followed everything our coach wanted to do, and most importantly we stayed together as a team, as brothers.”
Alpha Diallo finished with 21 points as the Pirates were not able to contain him, but no other Providence scorer hit double-digits. McKnight had nine, Nzei had 12 and Thompson had eight in the effort.
Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Anthony Nelson combined for three points in 70 minutes combined.
In the end, though, it was a win that the team was looking for, not individual performances.
“Thank god we finally got a win,” Powell said about his jump to save the ball as the buzzer went off. “I was just trying to put me and my team in a position to win.”
The Pirates return to action on Feb. 2 when they travel to Butler for a massive test at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing the bulldog,” Willard remarked.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @KMKTNF.