If you ask the basketball gods how they would have ended the 74-72 nail-biting victory for Seton Hall over Butler on Wednesday night, it happened exactly like it they would have liked.
Sandro Mamukelashvili found a way to catch and toss in a lob from Quincy McKnight with only 0.6 seconds left to win it for the Pirates on Cancer Night at the Prudential Center with his father, a cancer survivor, was in attendance for the first time since his freshman year.
“I had past experiences where I couldn’t score a game winner so I was a little nervous,” Mamukelashvili said. “You have to always keep your head up and move on. I was ready if he called my name. I just wanted to go out there and make a basket. My father was here, he came from Georgia. It means a lot. It’s a big day for him.”
With a potential All-American on the court and a 7-foot-2 presence under the hoop, Mamukelashvili may have not been the first option to meet the eye when designing a play, but it was something run and planned by head coach Kevin Willard in the huddle.
“We ran that play a couple of days ago in practice,” Mamukelashvili said. “I feel like it worked out really good. It was in the back of coach’s mind and my mind. If we do it right, it will work out. [McKnight] threw a great pass, and it was right on point so I just caught it and threw it up.”
Willard said he found that play from the Sacramento Kings before implementing it on his own.
“We put [the play] in about a month ago,” Willard said. “I put it in because it’s a good play to try and get him an easy bucket, to try and get us an easy bucket at times. I thought at that point, you still have enough time to catch it and chuck it, but all you really have time for is to chuck it up by the rim and tap it. I thought [McKnight] threw a good pass and I thought the timing was really good.”
To get to that point, Butler erased a lead as big as five for Seton Hall with under a minute to play with two Sean McDermott threes before the Pirates received the ball under the basket with less than a second remaining. Mamukelashvili was then able to get position over John-Michael Mulloy, a freshman playing his first time in the game, to end it before overtime.
Mamukelashvili was instrumental over the game to running the Pirates offense. Despite his 15 points being tied for third-most on the team, he was able to make it count when and where it mattered the most. Mamukelashvili was specifically targeted throughout the game in the post and as able to use his size and left hook to his advantage.
“The biggest thing that I’ve been talking to Sandro about is just trying to get back into the grind of things,” Willard said. “He was on vacation for seven weeks, technically. He didn’t have to watch film, he didn’t have to game prep, and now all of a sudden you throw him in and you’re in the middle of the Big East. It’s a little bit overwhelming. I think the biggest thing I’ve been trying to preach to him is trying to get him back in a way of preparing himself mentally, not physically.”
Myles Powell found his groove midgame, including when he hit a Gordon Hayward-esque fadeaway with 11:03 to go in the second half to give the Pirates their first lead since 2-0.
Powell finished with 16 – eight in each half. Despite the low numbers, the Powell and Romaro Gill, who finished with 15 overall, helped Seton Hall stay afloat in a 33% shooting half. Butler shot nearly 50% over the entirety of the game, but the Pirates were able to rebound with 57% shooting in the second half to secure the victory.
Much like the loss against Creighton, in this sense, the two teams were overtly even over the entirety of the game. 32 to 25 rebounds, 32 to 30 points in the paint and 12 to 11 turnovers – all with the Pirates leading in every category – prove to the sentiment that without a last second Mamukelashvili drop, anything could have happened in the five extra minutes that were to come.
This time, though, it was the Pirates with multiple players in double-figures for points, including McKnight who had a team-leading 18 on top of being tasked to try and keep up with Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s go-to man. Baldwin ended up with a game-high 20 points, three ahead of Bryce Golden who fouled out with 2:19 to go in the game.
Next up for Seton Hall is a matinee affair with St. John’s on Feb. 23 at 2:30 p.m. The Johnnies will be without Mustapha Heron, but it will regardless prove to be another test and a chance for a resume builder for Seton Hall as it powers through Big East action.
“This is one of the best leagues in the country,” Powell said. “Any given night, you never know what’s going to happen. We’re battle tested, we fought and we came out on top today.”
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.