Talk about a punch to the gut.
Up 19 in the second half and 10 with six minutes left to play, Seton Hall looked to be in prime position to defeat No. 11 Oregon and advance to take on No. 8 Gonzaga in the second round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Instead of securing a Top 15 win and taking a crack at earning a resume-boosting win over Gonzaga, the Pirates completely collapsed and allowed Oregon to win a game in which it was essentially up a creek without a paddle.
Collapses are nothing new in the world of Seton Hall basketball. Anyone who follows the team knows this. Remember when the Pirates led by nine points with six minutes left against Rutgers in 2017, only to allow the Scarlet Knights to come back and win thanks to a 17-2 run to end the game? How about when they had Michigan State down five with two minutes left to play at home, but still managed to come out on the short end? Both losses were incredibly hard to swallow.
The collapse Seton Hall endured against Oregon on Thanksgiving eve, though? This one was a different kind of excruciating.
Say what you want about Kevin Willard’s coaching (don’t worry, we’ll discuss that in detail later). Say what you want about Oregon taking 28 free throws while Seton Hall only attempted nine. The worst part of Wednesday’s loss was that Seton Hall’s fatal flaw was put on display for the whole country to see.
Myles Powell is the reason the Pirates were ever up 19 on Oregon. His aerial assault from beyond the arc put Seton Hall in a position to run the Ducks out of the building. Even when his shots started going wide, the Pirates were still in a position to close out the game with a win. Only one problem, though. None of Powell’s teammates knew how to go about doing that.
With Powell cold, Seton Hall’s offense stagnated. The Pirates scored only two points in the final six minutes. Their offensive sets featured a lot of meaningless dribbling and almost no direction or sense of purpose. Why? Because nobody stepped up to the plate and took on the challenge of being the guy and leading the way in crunch time.
Sandro Mamukelashvili, the one many expected to step up and be Seton Hall’s No. 2 scoring option this season, was nowhere to be found. Quincy McKnight had zero points in the second half and only one in the game. So much for Willard’s plea for him to step up and be the No. 2 guy after the Florida A&M game. Anthony Nelson and Jared Rhoden, Seton Hall’s lauded sophomores, combined for two field goal attempts in the second half. They didn’t make either of them. To make matters worse, Tyrese Samuel sustained a thigh bruise that limited him to only one minute in the second half.
“Someone else has to step up [besides Powell],” Willard said after the game. “That’s where we need to get better. You ride him as much as you want, but someone has to make a play at the end.”
Yeah, no kidding.
Let’s stick with Willard for a second, because he’s as much to blame as anyone for the loss. Myles Cale was firing on all cylinders in the first half, but wasn’t given much of a chance to contribute anything in the second. In fact, he wasn’t even in the game for much of the final six minutes of action. With an offense that is clearly struggling to put points on the board, why go away from one of the few players who was having a solid offensive game?
Willard also could’ve helped his team by calling a timeout during certain points in Oregon’s run, but fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe he was relying on Powell to heat back up and bail everyone out. Maybe he was too busy pondering how he would prepare his players to take on Gonzaga on short rest to realize what was transpiring in front of him, something he no longer has to fret over with Seton Hall playing Southern Miss in the loser’s bracket at 9 p.m on Thursday. Either way, a little guidance during Oregon’s run would’ve been useful.
After soundly defeating Saint Louis, Willard proclaimed his team a Top 10 squad among the best in the country. Elite teams don’t forget how to play offense when their star player isn’t hitting shots at a ridiculous clip. Elite teams don’t blow 19-point leads and the opportunity to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume. Elite teams have players step up when things get tough.
If Seton Hall’s performance down the stretch was any indication of who this team really is, it has a lot of work to do to be considered anywhere near elite.
That might be a harsh take, but there’s no sense in sugarcoating things. This is a Seton Hall team that has high expectations internally and externally. This is supposed to be the season that the Pirates make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. All of that is still entirely possible, but it’s not going to happen with one player leading the way while everyone else stands around and watches.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.