Many fans woke up on Wednesday, Feb. 28 and asked themselves a question: Can Seton Hall beat No. 4 Villanova? Later, that question became: Can Seton Hall beat Villanova without Desi Rodriguez?
Then, at night during warmups, the question expanded: Can Seton Hall beat Villanova without Rodriguez and Jordan Walker? The freshman guard was ruled inactive with a reinjured thumb.
After a first half where the Pirates shot 20.7 percent from the field and went down by six, the question grew: Can Seton Hall beat Villanova without Rodriguez and Walker after one of the worst shooting halves of the season?
As the second half ramped up, that question began to be answered. Myles Powell was a spark plug, scoring eight straight and rallying the crowd of 13,711 that was louder than it has been all season. The contribution turned into a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to one, and the Pirates took the lead on a floater from Pirate leader Khadeen Carrington.
With the crowd on its feet, Seton Hall started to answer the question more. While Villanova went on a 6-0 run of its own, the Pirates stayed in the battle with each team taking turns draining shots.
Suddenly, both teams were alive after a first half that left much to be desired.
“The first half we didn’t play too well, missed a lot of easy shots, myself I missed a lot of easy shots,” Carrington said. “We stayed in there.”
Then for Seton Hall, the question got bigger. It became: Can Seton Hall beat Villanova without Rodriguez and Walker after one of the worst shooting halves of the season, and after losing Ismael Sanogo to an ankle sprain? Sanogo went down on a drive where he landed on someone’s foot, causing his ankle to swell.
The Pirates did their best to go on without him. Mike Nzei stepped up in his place and had back-to-back finishes in the paint. Jalen Brunson, who was kept quiet for the majority of regulation, answered both. Coming out of a timeout and Seton Hall with the ball down one, Carrington drove the lane and drew a foul.
In the biggest moments, Carrington was the answer. But his first foul shot that bounced twice off the rim would have been a game-winning free throw for Seton Hall. Donte DiVincenzo’s three-pointer fell short, and the game went to overtime.
“We should’ve been going home after regulation, but I put that on myself,” Carrington said.
Villanova scored two threes to kick off overtime. Seton Hall’s answer started to fade away.
The Pirates worked their way back with fouls and free throws, but missed opportunities mounted. Then a Myles Cale dunk that got the crowd on its feet ended with a negative outcome, as his leg cramped on the landing, sending him to the bench for the rest of the game.
The final question for Seton Hall then was: Can Seton Hall beat Villanova without Rodriguez and Walker after one of the worst shooting halves of the season, and after losing Sanogo to an ankle sprain and Cale to a leg cramp?
The Pirates again battled and came as close as within one in the final seconds, with Cale’s replacement Eron Gordon making a turnaround three and Powell drawing an and-one to help spur momentum. Villanova’s Brunson, though, knows how to step up in the big moments and ultimately was too much for Seton Hall to counter, and Mikal Bridges’ 23 points and 10 rebounds was too dominant in the 69-68 result.
So, what was the answer to Seton Hall’s growing question? Could the team beat Villanova with the growing obstacles? The answer was no. Could the team battle through it and nearly win? Yes.
“I think they showed me the same thing they showed me all year, the toughness has been great,” Willard said “The resilience when we got down, just fought. Really proud of the way these guys played today.”
With four players currently out with injury, the only one Willard expects back in the lineup by March 3 for Senior Day and the regular season closer is Cale. Both Rodriguez and Sanogo are doubtful with ankle sprains, while Walker is unlikely to play until the Big East Tournament.
Carrington starred in the game with 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and one turnover, with Powell following him up with 13 points on 3-of-14 shooting from three. Combined, the teams shot just 13-of-61 from three-point range, drawing the attention inside to Angel Delgado. The big man ended up struggling with the attention, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds on the night.
The game goes down as another battle between the Pirates and Wildcats, a fight Villanova coach Jay Wright expects every time.
“It’s not the building, it’s Seton Hall,” Wright said. “We struggle with them because they’re tough, they’re physical and they’re well-coached, and they just match up well against us. They always play us tough, we know it coming in.”
With injuries mounting, it does not look like Seton Hall’s questions will shorten or lessen anytime soon. That is when the team is tested, and that is where the Pirates still take one of the best teams in the nation to overtime. What is left is getting the winning result, and that is what they fight for.
“I told them on the court, it’s tough to lose, but once you play like that every game, you’re not going to lose a lot of games,” Carrington said. “We’re going to need more of it down the stretch.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.