If there was ever going to be a Seton Hall team to snap its 26-year losing streak at Villanova, it’s this one.
The Pirates found themselves at a crossroads with 9:41 remaining. Myles Powell picked up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench with Seton Hall holding a slim 46-42 lead. Faced with their star on the bench, Quincy McKnight battling foul trouble of his own and a raucous Villanova crowd, the Pirates could have folded and allowed the Wildcats to rip off a game-ending run.
Sandro Mamukelashvili had other ideas, though.
Seton Hall’s junior power forward stepped up big-time down the stretch in only his third game since returning from a broken wrist, leading the charge with Powell on the bench. Mamukelashvili scored 12 of his 17 in the second half to lead the Pirates to a historic 70–64 win.
“When [Powell] went out for the two games against Florida A&M and Maryland, we didn’t have Sandro,” Kevin Willard said. “I think the biggest difference now is, I’ve always said Sandro is my security blanket. Whether it’s press offense, whether we throw it to the post or pick and pop him, he’s going to make a play. I had so much confidence in that group because Sandro was out there.”
Not only does the win end a nearly three-decade drought, but it also gives Seton Hall some much-needed breathing room in the Big East. The Pirates are now three games up on Villanova in the standings and are in control of their own destiny moving forward.
“If we had lost, I would’ve been like, ‘alright, we have cheesesteaks on the bus,” Willard said. “It would have been 27 years. It might have been 28 years. It’s more about this team and living in the present. It’s more important about where we are in the standings and where we are with the seedings. It’s all about these kids. I’m more concerned about this team and what they’re doing.”
Seton Hall got off to an ideal start, jumping out to a 15-7 lead by the under-16 timeout thanks to some hot shooting and timely production from Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jared Rhoden. The frontcourt duo combined for 10 of Seton Hall’s first 15 as the Pirates opened shooting 46% from the field and 50% from three.
A Myles Powell three-pointer at the 10:37 mark put Seton Hall up 10 and in position to put Villanova in an early hole. Instead, the Pirates went cold on offense and registered only seven points over the final 10 and a half minutes of the first half.
With Seton Hall struggling to find the bottom of the net, Villanova took advantage, closing the half strong with a 21-7 run. The Wildcats jumped in front for the first time in the game at 27-25 on a Saddiq Bey jumper. Bey then proceeded to bring the house down with a fastbreak dunk to push Villanova’s lead to four on its ensuing offensive possession.
Villanova took a 31-27 lead into halftime, but Seton Hall quickly erased it in the opening minutes of the second half on three-pointers from Powell and Rhoden. Powell’s three-pointer made him Seton Hall’s all-time three-point field goal leader, passing Jeremy Hazell for the record.
Seton Hall’s 11-5 start to the second half propelled it to a slim 38-36 lead at the under-16 timeout, but it was not enough to spark an extended run to separate itself from the Wildcats. Villanova found itself firmly in the mix at the next media timeout, trailing only 43-40.
Another Powell three-pointer from the top of the key made it 46-42 Seton Hall, but foul trouble soon reared its ugly head for Seton Hall’s star. Powell picked up his fourth foul with 9:31 remaining, forcing him to the bench at a crucial point for the Pirates.
Seton Hall did not fold with Powell on the bench, though. Mamukelashvili stepped up for the Pirates, providing timely scores to keep Villanova at bay. Powell eventually checked back in with six minutes remaining and made an instant, draining a step-back jumper to push Seton Hall’s lead to 59-53 at the under-four timeout.
In typical Villanova fashion, the Wildcats refused to go away. Bey drained a three from the wing to cut Seton Hall’s lead to three with 1:38 remaining. Villanova forced a shot-clock violation on its ensuing defensive possession, but failed to produce a score at the other end. Quincy McKnight stepped up to the free-throw line and drained two free throws to make it 63-58 with 48 seconds remaining, effectively icing the game.
“It’s a blessing,” Powell said of being part of the team that snapped Seton Hall’s losing streak at Villanova. “That’s the good thing about this conference. Every game you can break some type of legacy or some sort of history. We’re just going to keep coming out and playing Seton Hall basketball.”
-How nice is it to have Sandro Mamukelashvili back? The junior forward provided the Pirates with a much-needed boost when Myles Powell subbed out with four fouls at the 9:31 mark. This is why Powell and so many other players talked about what Mamukelashvili could add upon his return while he was sidelined. Big-time game from him.
“When you see one of your brothers shining, it’s a good feeling,” Powell said. “That’s the best part about this group. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it or how it’s getting done. We just want to win. Like I said, when you have a group of guys like that, you win.”
-Jared Rhoden: Nine points and 11 rebounds. Not to knock Myles Cale, but there should not be much debate about which wing should be in the starting lineup moving forward. It’s understandable that Kevin Willard wanted to play the matchup game with Cale on Sadiq Bey, but Seton Hall simply has a different energy when Rhoden is on the floor for extended minutes.
-Romaro Gill’s plus/minus blew Ike Obiagu’s out of the water. Seton Hall found itself in a bit of a matchup bind with Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl frequently taking Gill and Obiagu out of the paint, but Gill proved to be the more impactful big as the game progressed. Willard realized this and turned to Gill for nearly the duration of the half while Obiagu, who saw extended run in the first half, remained on the bench.
-Shavar Reynolds deserves some recognition for his hustle on both ends of the floor today. An underrated, yet integral part of Seton Hall’s victory.
“Shavar was awesome,” Willard said. “I thought his defense on Colin [Gillespie] was really, really impressive. He picked him up full court, then he dropped back. He didn’t leave him. He made it very hard for Colin to get into a groove.”
-Seton Hall now controls its own destiny in the Big East. You can’t put a price on that.
-This was an identity win for Seton Hall. The Pirates fought tooth and nail for 40 minutes in a hostile environment that has given them fits over the years. The three-game lead in the Big East and resume boost are nice, but this victory embodies what Seton Hall basketball is all about.
“We’re not always pretty, but we’re going to fight, we’re going to scrap and we’re going to battle. Even after our Xavier loss, I kind of went into the locker room and said at least we battled. We didn’t play well, let’s just go back to doing what we do. That’s playing extremely hard and being tough. That’s who we are as a program.
All my guys, I wouldn’t say I’m tough, but they take on the personality of what we need to do to win. I think they embrace that. I think they like it. I talk about our defensive numbers all the time, I think they enjoy being a good defensive team. They’ve embraced it and I think they enjoy it.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.