Heading into Saturday’s NCAA Tournament first-round matchup with Duquesne, Seton Hall had one clear advantage: experience.
One year ago, the Pirates were ousted in their first NCAA Tournament game in 10 years by in-state rival Rutgers. On Selection Monday, the Hall found out it was headed back to Storrs, Conn., where the first tournament run abruptly ended in 2015. This time, the opponent was a Duquesne team making their first appearance in the Big Dance.
However, once the ball went up, it was Seton Hall—not Duquesne—that looked like it was making its first appearance. Once again, the Pirates were one-and-done, falling to the Dukes, 97-76.
“They put a lot of pressure on us,” guard Aleesha Powell said. “We weren’t playing our way. We weren’t moving the ball, we weren’t playing as a team. And a lot of the stuff that affected us in the rest of our losses came back today.”
The Dukes opened up the game with an 8-0 advantage and never looked back. It was never really close as Duquesne looked like a well-oiled machine, while the Pirates looked at times like five individuals playing a pick-up game for the first time.
Duquesne passed the ball all over the court, always looking to make the extra pass, resulting in 19 total assists on 34 made field goals as opposed to 13 assists on 29 made field goals for Seton Hall.
Nerves never seemed to strike the Dukes, as could be expected of a team that has never played on this stage. A balanced attack of four players in double figures obliterated a Seton Hall defense that struggled mightily for the duration of the contest. Atlantic-10 Sixth Woman of the Year Deva’Nyar Workman was a dominant presence, leading all scorers with 25 points to go with 12 rebounds. Atlantic-10 Co-Player of the Year April Robinson was her usual self, playing an all-around game with 15 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists.
“The end of the day, it’s about making stops and making plays,” head coach Tony Bozzella said. “As a team they (Duquesne) made the extra pass, they moved the ball, they helped someone on defense.”
Duquesne dictated the pace throughout the contest, playing Seton Hall’s game.
“The pace should have been an advantage for us,” Bozzella said. “We’re not in the shape we were a month ago. We don’t play as hard as we did, we don’t play as collectively, as tough as we did. It’s obvious.”
The Pirates struggled to find consistent offense all afternoon. Tabatha Richardson-Smith led all Seton Hall scorers with 17 points, but most of her points came in the third quarter, where she scored 10 straight for the Blue and White in just under two minutes of game time. She finished 7-of-23 from the field, far too often settling for threes (3-for-13) that weren’t falling.
To the Hall’s credit, this is not the same team that came up short against the Scarlet Knights last year. Only retaining one starter from last season’s team (Richardson-Smith), the Pirates exceeded their expectation of finishing fifth in the conference to finishing in a tie for second while making the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, which has only been done once previously in program history.
The incorporation of new players still does not excuse the result, according to Bozzella.
All was not lost for the Pirates, as this year marks their third consecutive postseason appearance in Bozzella’s three years at the helm. He appears to have laid a foundation of success for years to come.
“As a senior the best we can do is set the bar for our younger kids,” Powell said. “Like our seniors last year set it for us, we’re setting it for them to get back here and hopefully next year they can do better than we did.”
Matt Zeigafuse can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @mattzeigafuse.