The stark contrast between a hard-earned road win and a wasteful, damaging home loss three days later was jarring.
In snowy, slushy Omaha last Sunday, the Seton Hall men’s basketball team was steaming hot from its earliest warmups. It was clear the then 6-6 in-conference Pirates had pulled themselves out of their January malaise with two wins in Newark the week prior.
“We had such a great December; January came around and uh…knocked us in the head a little bit, knocked us back a couple steps,” Quincy McKnight said after the Creighton win. “And it was just, we just stuck with it, man. That’s all it really was, just sticking with it. Never get too down, never get too high. That’s really our motto, man.”
And yet, on Wednesday inside the Prudential Center, the Pirates acknowledged their own complacency. Being transparent, a stoic Powell took responsibility for the lack of execution which led to a 16-point Xavier lead with 6:23 to go.
“I just think we came in, preparing [for] them to roll over for us,” Powell said. “And, in this league, that’s not what happens. Me and Mike [Nzei] got to be better leaders and captains.”
Now, the page turns toward primetime at the Garden – a fertile 94-by-50 plot of court for iconic Pirate wins in recent years.
The biggest bullet on the Pirates’ NCAA Tournament résumé this season remains their 84-83 December triumph over Kentucky at MSG. Separated perhaps only by their road win over Maryland, the next most impressive feat was three weeks later, edging out St. John’s in Newark, 76-74.
Both games featured miraculous three-pointers at the end of regulation; one a game-tying half-court prayer off the backboard by Kentucky guard Keldon Johnson (before I left MSG that afternoon, it was one of the banner photos on his roster bio) the other a delirious winner from walk-on-turned-scholarship player Shavar Reynolds.
All three ingredients: two bubble-desperate teams with knacks for manifesting drama and the glitz of the Big East Tournament home, are present. The danger for Seton Hall is allowing complacency to seep in again; past success in the form of a recent 9-3 record in MSG does not make tonight predictable or painless.
For all the talk pertaining to St. John’s weaker schedule ahead of the last meeting between these two on Dec. 29, the Red Storm now have six quadrant-1 wins – double that of Seton Hall.
If there was any merit to the idea St. John’s was ill-prepared for a tight battle after its maligned non-conference, a season sweep of Marquette and recent 19-point comeback over Villanova prove this team is more than smoke and mirrors.
What can offer Seton Hall promise is, less so the venue or opponent itself, but the precedent this 2018-19 team has set with its road performances.
Firstly, 17 of Seton Hall’s 26 games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. Last season, in their 31-game regular season, the Pirates played in 11 such games – both meetings with St. John’s made-up the 11.
Of those 17 cardiac contests, nine have been at home and eight on the road. Remarkably, the records are nearly identical, in fact the mark is better away from the Prudential Center: 5-4 at home, 5-3 on the road.
“I just think…we like playing on the road a little bit,” a smiling Quincy McKnight said in the tunnels of Chi Health Center in Omaha. “You know, you just like hearing people screaming against you sometimes, it just motivates you [to] play a little harder.
“And, I think the heart everybody has, nobody – you know, you hear people in the crowd screaming things, screaming your percentages and stuff like that. It’s just, we got so much heart, we don’t play the percentages, we play basketball at the end of the day.”
Seton Hall may have fumbled at several points this season, but it remains a team capable of conquering the biggest of challenges, on the grandest of stages.
If tonight again provides a stark contrast from three days prior and the desired result, the Pirates will breathe a huge sigh of relief and turn the page again – hoping this time they can finally make the subsequent chapter start as the previous ended.
James Justice can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.