Fresh off a trip to the Big East Championship game, Seton Hall traveled down to Jacksonville for the NCAA Tournament with its eyes on making a similar kind of run. No. 7 seed Wofford came to town with designs on a tournament run of its own, though, and knocked off the Pirates by a final score of 84-68 to send The Hall home early.
“That’s one heck of a basketball team we played,” coach Kevin Willard said. “When you have a senior-laden team like they do who’s extremely well-coached, you’re going to have to play really good to beat them. We just turned the ball over in the first half, that really kind of put us behind the eight ball and gave them too many opportunities.”
It was simply one of those nights for Seton Hall, as the shots were not falling and the Pirates could not find a rhythm on offense. Myles Powell struggled to find his way early in the game, and ended the night with 27 points on 10-25 shooting. Overall, Seton Hall shot 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc.
“We fought, but we came up just short to a very good Wofford team,” Powell said. “They handled our runs and we turned the ball over a little too much tonight.”
In the opening minutes, Seton Hall found ways to score while executing on the defensive end. Sandro Mamukelashvili and Myles Cale scored 10 of the Pirates’ first 12 points, as Seton Hall held a two-point lead at the under-16 timeout. During that span, Cale and Quincy McKnight were locked in on Wofford star Fletcher Magee, making him work for every inch of space off the ball. While Magee fought for room to get a shot off, Cameron Johnson, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, paced Wofford.
“They did a good job, especially in the first half, of just topping me and kind of making it hard to get the ball,” Magee said. “But that’s when Cam was playing amazing in the first half. Everyone else on our team was stepping up and doing a lot of things, so I knew there was no need to rush it or take bad shots. We were still controlling the game.”
“My biggest fear came true, was that Jackson was going to take over the game, and I thought the biggest difference in the game was that A, we turned the ball over,” Willard said. “But B, early in the game, he settled them down. He got them going and that was my biggest fear going into the game. I really thought he was the difference in the game, believe it or not.”
After looking out of sorts in the early going, Wofford began to find its way on offense, as the Terriers found their stroke from the perimeter. Led by Magee, who finished with 24, Wofford ripped off a 7-0 run to jump in front, 23-16, and force a Seton Hall timeout.
Soon after, Wofford’s lead ballooned even further. By the under-12 timeout, the Terriers held a nine-point advantage and before long, they found themselves up 16 following a four-point play by Magee, who broke the NCAA record for three-point field goals in the second half.
“He has an awkward shot, but he knows how to get it up and make it go in,” Cale said of Magee. “He’s a really good player and lets the game come to him.”
Seton Hall’s final possession of the first half served as a microcosm of the night, as the Pirates pushed the ball up the floor with a lack of urgency. The first half came to an end with Powell attempting a contested three that never had a chance of going in and the Pirates trailing, 40-30.
Wofford extended its lead to 13 in the opening minutes of the second half, but Seton Hall came out a more energized team than it was in the first half to make things interesting. The Pirates cut Wofford’s lead to 48-41 around the 14-minute mark, but the Terriers zoned back in on offense and pushed their lead back to double figures thanks to a three from Magee, which forced a Seton Hall timeout.
Seton Hall took Wofford’s latest punch in stride and continued to fight its way back into the game. Four consecutive points from Powell got Wofford’s lead down to six, the closest the Pirates had been since they trailed 23-16 in the first half.
With Powell having found his stroke, Seton Hall designed an isolation play for him coming out of the U12 timeout and it worked to perfection, as the Trenton native banged home a three ball. Powell followed up that make with another one following a defensive stop and for the first time since the opening minutes of the first half, Seton Hall held a one-point lead.
Neither team held the lead for a consistent period of time from that point on, as they exchanged buckets down the stretch. It was not until the three-minute mark that Wofford found its stroke and built up a sizeable cushion, as two threes from Nathan Hoover and a bomb from Magee made it a 76-66 game. That 9-0 run proved to be enough to put the Pirates away for good, as Seton Hall could not muster up one of the comebacks that were a staple of the season. Wofford’s torrid shooting was simply too much, as the Terriers closed the game on a 17-2 run.
“They can just shoot the hell out of the ball,” Powell said. “We took the lead and I just remember them catching fire. They controlled our run and we didn’t control theirs. The game flipped from there. It hurts right now. They just did one heck of a job keeping their cool. That’s a great basketball team over there and props out to them.”
With the loss, Seton Hall finishes the season 20-14. It is also the Pirates’ third first-round NCAA Tournament exit in four years. With that being said, the 2018-19 season will always be remembered as one where the Pirates proved all the doubters wrong and put together a memorable run at the end of the regular season and the Big East Tournament.
“These guys have battled and left it on the floor all year long,” Willard said. “I love the way they’ve battled. I Couldn’t be more proud of the season we’ve had, couldn’t be more proud of them as individuals. It’s always tough to lose, but that was a good basketball team we played really well.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso