NEWARK – The Seton Hall men’s basketball team won a seesaw contest inside a stirring Prudential Center on Saturday night, 63-58.
Two teams that will meet again on Feb. 17 in Omaha played a game of low-percentage shooting, not the modus operandi for a Creighton side that entered tonight with two players – Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock – who possessed better than 45 percent three-point field goal percentages.
Zegarowski, however, is out indefinitely with a fractured metacarpal in his right hand. The absence made Ballock – already a primary point of emphasis – a person whose performance would dictate the balance of the game.
“Our biggest key was, we didn’t want Mitch Ballock to have a big night,” Willard said. “It’s just, when he’s making threes, they are almost impossible to defend.”
And Ballock was rendered ineffective, finishing 0-for-5 from the field (all threes).
“We really focused,” Willard went on to say. “[Ballock] got a couple open ones off offensive rebounds early. But, for the most part, we did a great job switching, making it tough on him and…it really was a good job defensively because they are a really good offensive unit.”
In a game that rocked back and forth, a mix of sharp defense from Seton Hall and dull shooting for Creighton swung the contest in favor of the home side. And not only did the Pirates shut out Ballock, but the Blue and White limited Davion Mintz – a double digit per game scorer – to one point.
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But despite team defense keeping the door open, Seton Hall still required late-game offense to barge through and claim a crucial win. Down five points with 3:38 to play, the Pirates needed their leading scorer – their sleeping marksman – to take over.
Enter Myles Powell, who was scoreless for over 16 minutes of the second half entering the under-four media timeout. After Powell trudged to the bench during the stoppage, Willard delivered a message that set off an 11-point surge in the climax of the game.
“My coaching staff pulled me aside and said, ‘This is what you live for, this is your time,’” Powell said. “So, like I’ve been saying all year, my coaches believe in me, my teammates believe in me, and it’s hard for me to lack confidence. So, they just put the ball in my hands and I made plays.”
Most of Powell’s points in crunch time came at the free throw line, part of his perfect 10-for-10 outing on those dead whistle shots. However, with 1:14 remaining, it was Powell bulldozing through traffic and willing the ball through Creighton arms that decided the match.
The go-ahead conversion was not the most attractive basketball move, but a feat of strength and persistence that typified the win for Seton Hall, who climb to 5-6, part of a five-way tie for third in the clustered Big East.
With all to play for, the Pirates will return to the Prudential Center on Feb. 13 to face Georgetown, before flying to take on this same Creighton team once more on Feb. 17.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.