Kevin Willard’s message to his team was clear heading into its matchup with Iowa State on Friday night – No more excuses.
The Pirates, who faced plenty of criticism after blowing a 19-point lead against Oregon on Thanksgiving Eve, rallied against a resilient Iowa State team with a dominant closing effort and overall solid defensive game to win 84-76. The win puts the Pirates at 6-2 on the year and allows them to leave the Bahamas with a 2-1 record and an important Quadrant I win.
Myles Powell dropped 24 points in Seton Hall’s final game of the tournament despite struggling to a 2-9 mark from the field in the first half. He also broke the Battle 4 Atlantis record for scoring, registering 74 points in three games.
Powell’s early struggles would’ve resulted in a Seton Hall loss considering the way the past couple of games have played out. However, Willard finally was able to get contributions from his depth to ensure that the Pirates did not end the tournament on a sour note.
Sandro Mamukelashvili ended a respectable run in the Bahamas with 18 points and six rebounds. Myles Cale, who received some tough love from Willard following Seton Hall’s 81-56 win over Southern Miss on Thursday night, only finished with eight points but came down with 12 rebounds and added four asists. Other contributors included Quincy McKnight, Tyrese Samuel and Jared Rhoden with a combined 22 points.
Willard went with his usual 10-man rotation throughout, albeit with a piece missing. For the second straight night, Anthony Nelson saw limited minutes on the floor.
Against the Cyclones, he finished with no points and was -5 in just two minutes of action. On Thanksgiving night against Southern Miss, Nelson played only four minutes. Although stating it was a one-game punishment for Nelson, the opposite seems to be true as Willard ran with McKnight and Shavar Reynolds over his upcoming sophomore guard, who reportedly missed a team meeting.
“When I put him out there, he had bad body language and I’m not going to put up with bad body language,” Willard said on Thursday night. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Iowa State was lights out off the bat, making five of its first six shots to jump out to an early lead. After a back-and-forth affair throughout the half, the Hawkeyes took a 33-32 lead into the break to conclude a physical first half.
Perhaps the most crucial moment of the first half came in its final minutes, as McKnight slipped going for a loose ball and slammed his jaw on the ground just before Iowa State hit a go-ahead three. McKnight left for the locker room immediately after, but he returned in the second half seemingly no worse for wear.
McKnight’s tumble marked the end of a long, destructive tournament for Seton Hall’s defensive catalyst. After cramping up in each of the first two games, the fall at the end of the half could have turned out much worse for McKnight than it did. Fortunately for him and the Pirates, he was back and at his best in the second half.
The slip from McKnight was not the first of its kind, as multiple Seton Hall and Iowa State players hit the deck as the game progresses. That, combined with a power outage midway through the second half, solidified a nearly retro video game type feel to close out a tournament that has been anything but ordinary.
After the power outage, Seton Hall took control and never looked back. Iowa State had multiple chances to chop into the lead under the net, but nothing would fall and Powell eventually hit a dagger from beyond the arc to put the Cyclones away for good. McKnight, Mamukelashvili Powell and Rhoden, among others, came down with points near the end of the game to bring home a total team effort victory before heading back to new Jersey.
The win, albeit in a fifth-place consolation game, helps the Pirates leave the islands with their heads held high. Iowa State gives Seton Hall a quality Quadrant I win to hang its hat on moving forward – one that was desperately needed entering the tournament.
Seton Hall and Iowa State will have a week to study film before the two teams do it all over again on Dec. 8. The atmosphere will only get more difficult for the Pirates when they travel to Ames, but another challenge lays ahead as the team attempts to get itself back on track and add another key win to its NCAA Tournament resume.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.