Sunday marked National Girls and Women in Sports Day in South Orange, and Walsh Gymnasium was jam-packed with celebratory honors and momentous odes to the sporting world’s best female superstars for a critically important Big East matchup with nationally ranked DePaul.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, celebration was not the mantra of the day as they fell in a hard-fought slugfest at home, 86-76.
The team was thoroughly outplayed in the first half by the Blue Demons, and went into the midway break down 10, 50-40. A third-quarter surge found much closer on the scoreboard, and the Pirates even took a one-point lead, but a staunch closing run from DePaul shut the door on any hopes of a Pirate comeback. They outscored Seton Hall 22-15 in the fourth quarter to solidify a momentous Big East win. The win brought the Blue Demons to 22-3 overall while keeping their conference winning streak alive and well.
With the loss, the Pirates fell to 15-9 (8-5 Big East) in the defeat.
Seton Hall’s winning streak had sat at three before the Blue Demons rolled into town, and fans were beginning to have visions of a streak that carried the stuff of their male counterpart’s momentum as the women’s play continued to ramp up.
The team was fresh off of two huge road victories at Georgetown and Villanova, respectively. The Villanova win, a 65-63 thriller that ended on a game-winning putback layup from Shadeen Samuels with seconds to go lifted them past the Wildcats in Big East conference faring as well, placing them at fourth overall.
They returned home to Jersey Friday and dominated Marquette en route to a 72-60 victory in their annual Pink Game for Breast Cancer Awareness. All hopes were that the streak would continue, but DePaul posed the biggest threat to its cessation before a seemingly easier run loomed on the Pirates’ schedule as March draws closer.
The two squads had one previous matchup on the season that which was readily handled by the preseason top-25 Blue Demons. They had five scorers in double-figures and were led Lexi Held, whose 21 points were doubled down with six crucial takeaways on defense. Barbara Johnson led Pirate scorers with 17, but they were stifled by DePaul’s defensive efforts, putting up a sub-40 percent shooting clip, and being held to just a 6-for-21 mark from three-point range.
Judging by Sunday’s statistical margins though, those problems that plagued them in the last head-to-head were directly attended to and corrected. The Pirates outshot the Blue Demons 47-46% and were clearly the better team in terms of three-point percentage (40-32), free throw shooting (72-66) and created steals (10-7).
The one stat that matters above all the others for the team though, was absent from the game’s scoring sheet. That would be a win, and it’s likely due to biggest numbers discrepancy between the two – rebounds.
DePaul nearly doubled Seton Hall in terms of total boards. 47 to 24 was the exact difference, and they had a 16-2 advantage on the offensive side while holding the Pirates to just one second-chance point. So, while the Pirates outshot their opponent percentage wise, they put up far less attempts due to their rebounding problems.
Mya Jackson had a breakout scoring game with 19 points on three deep balls, and it was her scoring that kept the game locked for much of the first half. Scoring runs from DePaul in the closing minutes of both of the game’s initial quarters took the air from Seton Hall’s efforts, and a 6-0 run sent them cruising comfortably into halftime 50-40.
Seton Hall would have to make up considerable ground in the second to close the gap on a notorious finishing team, and they made a valiant effort that was led by Jackson’s five to open the third quarter. They eventually took the lead on a Samuels layup that put them up 57-56 but would quickly relinquish it as DePaul scurried back. The teams continued to trade blows until the fourth, at which point the Blue Demons showed the fervor of a team primed to make a deep run in March, hitting back to back threes and never letting Seton Hall back within five as the final minutes ticked away.
The Pirates will return to the hardwood on Feb. 14 on the road against Providence.
Justin Morris can be reached at email@example.com.