The opening atmosphere Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center was lackadaisical at best, but by the end of Seton Hall’s come-from-behind 75-55 victory over Prairie View, every person in Pirate blue was on their feet applauding the efforts of their team.
After pulling off what was made out to be an impossible victory over No. 7 Maryland on Thursday night, the Pirates looked devoid of energy and urgency to open the first half the game. Fatigue seemed to have set in on Kevin Willard’s side as their desire for victory simply was not there in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Both Quincy McKnight and Jared Rhoden were visibly frustrated with the way the first half developed. Following a possession in which Anthony Nelson failed to keep a pass in play, McKnight turned towards his own basket and sighed an exhausted “Come on, man.” A few moments later, Nelson was not able to inbound the ball within five seconds and gifted Prairie View with one of Seton Hall’s 11 turnovers in the half. As the team retreated to their defensive positions irritated, Rhoden tried to keep spirits high by applauding his teammates and telling them to calm down despite the match slowly spiraling out of their control.
What initially looked to be a slow offensive night for Seton Hall quickly turned into a poor defensive display as Prairie View began to find a foothold in the game. Romaro Gill and Rhoden were unable to provide their usual efficiency in collecting rebounds on either side of the court, often dropping contested and non-contested second balls off the glass.
Powell’s scoring prominence from outside the arc was especially missed in tonight’s game as Tyrese Samuel provided the team with both three-point shots made in the second half. The Pirates failed to convert any of their other 19 efforts from range and maintained just a 46% field goal percentage throughout the entirety of the game. McKnight finished the game as the team’s leading scorer with 25 points.
As the first half ended, the Pirates allowed four turnovers in the closing five minutes and allowed Prairie to go into the break with a 27-22 lead.
The start of the second half would have given any spectator the impression an equally disappointing sequel was bound to follow their poor first half. Easy passes were being dropped, rebounds slipped from players’ hands and Prairie View just seemed to have their way with Seton Hall on either side of the court.
Samuel’s first three pointer of the night brought the score within four points just five minutes in, but a tidy layup from Nelson reenergized the crowd and brought a fresh breath of confidence back into the sophomore guard as he brought the score level at 35 each. Though Prairie View would regain their lead with a subsequent basket, McKnight truly kick started both his own resurgence and Seton Hall’s comeback with a huge three-point play on the other end.
At that point, the switch flipped for Seton Hall. McKnight’s scoring took off, Rhoden and Samuel made their presence known off the board, Nelson found his groove scoring and assisting and the team finished the match with four players hitting double digits in points. Samuel came up big with a second three-point shot later in the second half and slammed an outstanding dunk to cap off a career high night in both points and rebounds.
“In the first half we got kind of stagnant, and we stopped pushing the ball,” McKnight said. “They got out of our press a little bit. Ant did a good job. He got eight or nine assists today, and I missed one that could have given him a double-double. Everyone did a good job today. [Jared Rhoden] bodied today, I think he had like 12-9. [Tyrese Samuel] had like 12-8. I got to the free throw line today and knocked some baskets down. I got to the basket a lot. Just being aggressive in the second half got us back into the game.”
With this win over Prairie View, the Pirates have concluded their non-conference schedule with an 8-4 record. Arguably the most difficult non-conference schedule of any college basketball team in the country, Kevin Willard was pleased with how the team’s record stands heading into Big East play.
“My goal was 9-3,” Willard said. “That was my goal. We’ve played the second hardest schedule other than Kansas. You play the second hardest schedule and you play three true road games – I mean St. Louis game gets better and better as the days go on. I think the hardest part about the injury situation is that they happened so early in the game on the road. We didn’t handle those injuries well at those times. I think the fact that we’ve had some time to practice and come back, we’re proud of where we are and our position.”
The Pirates will have an eight-day break before they start Big East play in Chicago against a near-perfect 12-1 DePaul on Dec. 30.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.