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With the Prudential Center filled to capacity and rocking with the return of Myles Powell less than a week after he sprained his ankle against Stony Brook, the stage was set for Seton Hall to take home a potentially season-defining non-conference win in dramatic fashion.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, it was simply not meant to be.
Despite some heroic play from Powell, who finished with a season-high 37 points on 12-27 shooting, down the stretch, Michigan State did just enough to come away with a 76-73 win to hand the Pirates their first loss of 2019.
“We could’ve kept the lead, used a little more of the shot clock and just ran a little more offense to make them work on defense instead of putting up quick shots,” Powell said.
Down 74-73 with 20 seconds left, Seton Hall had a chance to take the lead, but Sandro Mamukelashvili was met at the rim and denied. The Pirates had another chance to go ahead after a missed free throw, but failed to take advantage after Powell was stopped at the rim. Two Cassius Winston free throws put the Spartans up three with three seconds left and a last-second heave from Powell went wide, giving Michigan State a hard-fought victory.
“That was a March game in November,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “College basketball needs games like that.”
Things got off to an inauspicious start for Seton Hall, as Michigan State jumped out to an early 5-0 lead. A feed from Powell to Mamukelashvili on a pick and roll got the Pirates in the scoring column, but it didn’t lead to any sustained offensive momentum.
The lid remained on the rim for both teams as the opening minutes of the first half progressed. Michigan State held a slim 19-18 lead by the under-12 timeout, but the Spartans boasted only a 35% mark from the field at that point. Seton Hall, meanwhile, saw its offensive woes take a turn for the worst coming out of the under-12. The Pirates endured a five-minute scoring drought that lasted until just under six minutes in the half remaining.
Despite its extended scoring drought, Seton Hall remained in the game, trailing only 30-27 at halftime. The second half began on a more positive note for the Pirates, as an and-one from Powell and consecutive threes from Cale put them up 34-33. The lead was short-lived, though, as Michigan State responded with a score at the other end.
From there, the two teams traded blows as the game turned into a classic dog fight. Powell continued to do his part with a three from the top of the key to tie the score at 47 with 13 minutes remaining, but Michigan State’s Malik Hall answered with a triple at the other end to put the Spartans back out in front. Another three-pointer from Powell and a basket by Cale put Seton Hall up 55-50 with under 10 minutes left to play, but Michigan State tied it up once again in a matter of seconds.
By the 5:51 mark, Michigan State held a 63-58 lead, but the Pirates refused to go away. A nifty Anthony Nelson scoop pass led to a Mamukelashvili dunk to make it a one-possession game and a Powell layup cut the lead to one with five and a half minutes remaining, but Winston responded with a three at the other end to give Michigan State some temporary breathing room.
Once Winston hit what was at the time his biggest shot of the night, madness ensued. Powell took over and carried the Pirates putting them up 71-66 with two minutes to play. Winston and his teammates settled in, though, and closed out the night with some timely plays on offense and free throws down the stretch.
“We’re up five with 2:41 to go and with that group on the floor, we should have done much better with time management,” Willard said. “That’s where we lost the game. We got up five and we took three quick shots — shots that were not within the offense.”
“I think we relaxed up a little bit, Quincy McKnight said. “A couple of teams we played last year probably would’ve gave up. I think we had a couple of breakdowns on our part today. We didn’t execute down the stretch and it led to them coming down and making big shots.”
A three-pointer from Winston put Michigan State up 66-62 with 4:51 left before Seton Hall came storming back to take the lead. The Pirates held the lead until another Winston three-pointer put the Spartans up 72-71 with 1:02 left to play. After Seton Hall re-took the lead on two Powell free throws, Hall cashed in on a layup to give Michigan State the lead for good.
Seton Hall had its chances after the Hall layup, but could not find the bottom of the rim due to physical challenges from Michigan State at the rim that could’ve drawn a whistle.
“I still like the way we executed down the stretch coming out of the timeout,” Willard said. “Sandro had a great look right in front of the rim and even after they missed a free throw, Myles definitely got fouled going to the basket. He did everything he was supposed to do.”
“I don’t want to make a comment on that. I’m not one of those players,” Powell said. “If you know basketball and you think I got fouled, I’ll leave it at that.”
– Sandro Mamukelashvili clearly got fouled on his drive to the rim with 20 seconds left. Missed calls happen, but that one was pretty obvious.
-After struggling in Seton Hall’s first two games, Myles Cale got hot in the second half and Seton Hall’s whole offensive dynamic changed.
“I had a great conversation with MC after the game the other night. Sometimes, when you go from your sophomore to junior year, you think you’re going to do things magically,” Willard said. “I told him he’s got to get back to being simpler on the offensive end. He was aggressive, but he was simple. He didn’t try to force things. He took the open shots.”
With Cale firing on all cylinders, Seton Hall has three legitimate scoring options in Powell, Cale and Mamukelashvili. The Pirates will benefit moving forward if the junior can produce as he did against Michigan State on a consistent basis.
-Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill deserve a lot of credit for what they produced defensively. McKnight did an excellent job containing Cassius Winston to the best of his ability, while Gill was responsible for a handful of defensive stops with his challenges at the rim.
-Seton Hall’s non-conference schedule is loaded with elite teams, but none of those games might be as important as Sunday’s matchup with Saint Louis.
“We have a big game coming up on the road on Sunday against a very good Saint Louis team,” Powell said. “We have no time to chill. We have to get back, watch film, get better as a team and start looking forward.”
With only two days to prepare after such a physically draining battle, the Pirates will have to dig deep against the Billikens. A win against them on the road will say a lot about what this team is really made of.
“We don’t have an easy game coming up,” Willard said. “We’re going to have to bounce back. I have a lot of confidence with these guys. We lost a tough one last year to St. Louis, we lost a tough one to Louisville at home and we got better as the year went on. That’s what I’m really excited about with this team is they are going to get so much better as the year goes on. I don’t think we’re close to where we’re going to be in another month.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.