If you’re Seton Hall, it’s probably best to wipe most of the Wednesday night affair with DePaul out of your memories forever.
Despite winning 64-57, getting Sandro Mamukelashvili back for the first time since Dec. 8, having Kevin Willard pass PJ Carlesimo for the most Big East wins in program history and Myles Powell becoming the fourth-highest scoring player in Seton Hall history, the game was about as ugly as you can get. With four technical fouls assessed and 47 personal fouls combined between the two teams, the game felt more like the 2019 Big East Tournament disaster against Marquette than a regular, weeknight matchup with the Blue Demons.
Regardless of how it happened, the Pirates extended their win streak to double digits and improved to 8-0 in Big East play in the end. Spurred by a 9-0 run over 2:17 in the waning minutes of the game, including seven from Myles Powell in that span, Seton Hall was able to choke out DePaul and a previous nine-point deficit at the start of the second half.
From there, the Pirates never looked back and DePaul only scored six points from thereon. Seton Hall certainly could have easily extended the score as well, but a miserable 14-for-29 effort from the free-throw line stopped that.
Powell’s seven points on that run factored into his 24-point effort which allowed him to pass Greg Tynes on Seton Hall’s all-time scoring list. Now, Powell will set his sights on Jeremy Hazell as Seton Hall continues to power through Big East play.
Alongside Powell, Jared Rhoden was the biggest catalyst to the Pirates’ success in the game. He dropped 14 points, including two from beyond the arc, alongside 11 rebounds. His work on the boards was three higher than the next closest, Ike Obiagu, who had eight.
“I’d say [my biggest strength] is just heart,” Rhoden said. “There’s been a lot of stuff going on about the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ I feel like that’s just really what it’s about, having the will to just do it. I don’t care if I’m 6-foot-6, I’m going to get that rebound.”
His hard-nosed play is indicative of Seton Hall as a whole, who play well into situations like these. The Big East is always a physical battle, and this game was no different and required plenty of adjustments and grit.
“It’s not our first time playing them. We kind of knew coming in the game that they were going to be really physical and it ended up turning out to be a high-foul game. We didn’t really do too well making our free throws but I thought we did a good job in defending and rebounding towards the end of the game.”
Rhoden’s minutes were not affected by the return of Mamukelashvili, however, and neither were Tyrese Samuel’s minutes. Mamukelashvili, back from a broken wrist, only played five minutes and all in the first half as he rightfully shook off a bit of rust in a rough-and-tumble game.
“I thought Sandro played much better than I even thought he would,” Willard said. “Having four practices, I was very encouraged, even though he wasn’t, of where he was. In the second half, I just couldn’t get him back in there for a guy who hasn’t played in a while, it just wasn’t a good time.”
Mamukelashvili’s minutes came largely as the first half wound down, as Willard elected to use a much-speculated smaller lineup consisting of the big man from Georgia, Powell, Myles Cale, Rhoden and Shavar Reynolds or Anthony Nelson. With Romaro Gill sitting at two fouls, that Pirates lineup could not do much as Seton Hall only scored once in the last 5:32 of the first half.
After the misery of the first half ended, the fouls kept rolling in during the second half. Within three minutes, foul fouls had been assessed, including a third to starting point guard Quincy McKnight which severely impacted his naturally tenacious defense.
“This is my first game all year being in foul trouble like this,” McKnight said. “I think that was really a game-changer in the first half. Me being on the bench and not being able to guard Charlie [Moore] in the first half was kind of tough.”
“When I’m a defensive player like I am, it’s tough to have to fouls in the first half,” McKnight continued. “Even when I had the first one so early in the game, as soon as I got the foul, I looked at coach and coach was just giving me that look like ‘Come on, we know we can’t have that.’”
Even though he was in foul trouble, McKnight still played nearly 30 minutes on the night. Willard was especially impressed with his floor general and Rhoden and how the duo set the tone for the game.
“I thought [McKnight] and [Rhoden], their energy was really infectious almost,” Willard said. “It kind of, even though we were missing free throws and having a hard time making shots, I thought their defense kept us upbeat and kept us going.”
After the McKnight third foul and a 39-30 DePaul lead, however, the Pirates were forced to take a timeout while down by nine. That choice by Willard proved to be a catalyst, as his team outscored its opponent 34-18 from that point on.
By closing time, it was clear that everyone in the building was ready for this one to end. With six players on four fouls or more and plenty of jeers from the crowd directed at the referees, the game mercifully ended with McKnight dribbling the ball out after a Cale steal.
“We didn’t really play Seton Hall basketball today, but we still got the win and at the end of the day that’s all that matters,” Powell said.
Next up, Seton Hall sets its sights on 11 wins in a row while facing an odd, 11 a.m. start at home against Xavier. Last time out, the Pirates took down the Musketeers, 83-71, on the road, so Willard and company will certainly hope that fortunes are the same.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.