Underdogs are often built upon the collective overachievement of their players, but in certain cases, an individual player making the jump to the next level is all it takes to defy a team’s expectations. For Shadeen Samuels, her Big East averages of 20.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game go a long way in putting her in that selective group of individuals.
At the beginning of the season, the Seton Hall women’s basketball team was projected to finish eighth in the Big East after finishing in seventh the year before. The team’s loss of its top-three scorers following the conclusion of the 2017-18 season warranted such a prediction, but the team currently sits fifth in the league and is equal with fourth-place Providence with a 5-4 record. Samuels has undoubtedly been the key factor in the Pirates’ success in the 2018-19 season.
Samuels’ standout performances have been the driving force to Seton Hall fighting above its weight and maintaining a winning record this year. Seven of her nine career 20-plus point games have come this year, four of which were against Big East opposition in Xavier, Georgetown, Villanova, and Creighton. Samuels put up a career high 32 points on a Creighton team expected to finish fourth in the Big East, but each of those four teams now sit below Seton Hall with losing records halfway through the season.
A team statistic to make note of is the Pirates averaging 3.4 points per game more than they did last season. While the team’s improvement can be accredited to Tony Bozzella’s emphasis on offensive efficiency, Samuels’ individual efficiency in the offensive half is levels above her teammates and most of her opponents.
Samuels has simply become more clinical with shots from all over the court. She averages just below 72 percent from the free throw line as opposed to the 59 percent and 58 percent that she maintained in her two previous seasons. She is hitting 32.8 percent of her shots from beyond the arc and 52.3 percent of her total shots. As the go-to player for baskets, she is taking more shots and finishing more shots than she ever has in her college career.
Samuels already has 20 more offensive rebounds than she managed last season in 12 less games and is on course to shatter her 152 defensive rebounds mark from 2017-18 as well. Overall, her average rebounds per game has increased from 6.5 last season to 9.6 since this season – almost making for a double-double average.
Off the back of two consecutive 20-plus point games against Villanova and Georgetown, Samuels will be hoping to round out the Pirates’ four-game home advantage with two more wins over tenth place Xavier on Feb. 1 and second-place Butler on Feb. 3. Both teams narrowly defeated Seton Hall in the reverse fixtures, but Samuels’ red-hot form and the opponents’ current losing streak might just be enough to help the Pirates get their revenge.
The pressure was on from the jump for Seton Hall and will continue to loom over the Pirates until the seasons ends, but Samuels’ free scoring form has seen the junior rise to prominence in the Big East and as a leader within the team.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Sousa7474.