After a whirlwind month that included a two-week COVID-19 quarantine, six non-conference games over 13 days and the loss of Harvard graduate transfer Bryce Aiken to an injury in the first game of the season, Seton Hall starts Big East play Friday night at the Prudential Center against St. John’s.
The team has faced unusual adversity, but they persevered and came out with Shavar Reynolds and Ike Obiagu as ready starters in time for the Big East regular season.
Reynolds started the season hot, averaging 9.5 points and 5.6 assists per game in his first season as a starter since making the team as a walk-on ahead of the 2017-18 season. He made his first start against Louisville and has since followed it up with a career-best performance against Oregon where he scored 17 points and assisted eight baskets.
Though Aiken was brought in to help supplement the loss of Myles Powell’s scoring from last season, Reynolds has shouldered his offensive duties admirably and maintained his usual consistency on defense as well. He shot 48.6% from the field and found his stride from behind the arc having made eight of his 13 attempted three-point shots so far this season.
“As he gets more reps, as he gets more comfortable, as he gets more confidence, I have extreme confidence in him,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “He can be simple on offense, but he really changes the game defensively for us. I’m asking him to do a lot right now, but I think that he can do it.”
Reynolds has been characteristically humble regarding his performances. He said he needs to work on his rebounds and lowering his turnovers after the win against Wagner, but his performances can often dictate Seton Hall’s overall performance. His ability to compose the team on defense was missed in the loss to URI after he fouled out midway through the second half and the team imploded late on.
Likewise, Reynolds’ momentum-changing three-point shot against Penn State in overtime helped the Pirates come from behind to secure a much-needed away win.
Reynolds said mental sharpness and preparedness have been key in helping him adjust to his new role as a starter. While the team quarantined for two weeks in early November, Reynolds worked on the mental side of his game through extensive film sessions.
If he wasn’t working on school assignments or going through an individual workout, he rewatched Seton Hall games and attentively studied how to get the best out of his teammates on offense. Before Seton Hall’s game against Louisville, Reynolds sat through three of the Cardinals’ previous games to get a firm understanding of his opponent’s style of play.
“I’ve always been an IQ player, and I’ve always loved passing to other guys to get them going,” Reynolds said. “This year, that’s more of my responsibility and I know it’s my job to get these guys the ball because they can score very well.”
In the paint, Obiagu has also started to grow into his role at the five for Seton Hall. Although his pathway was a bit clearer than Reynolds given Obiagu was the understudy to Romaro Gill last season, the Pirates’ 7-foot-2 center has still undergone an adjustment period in becoming their target man underneath the net.
He’ll head into the St. John’s after his own career game against Wagner, scoring 20 points and making eight blocks as the Pirates cruised to victory in the second half. Obiagu even bounced back from two successive games without scoring a free throw with a 12-for-15 performance from the lines against the Seahawks.
“It’s great that when the team trusts you and you receive the ball a lot like that,” Obiagu said. “That shows a lot about our team, that we trust each other and care about each other. We don’t care what mistakes look like or how many points we score, we just want to win and play together like a team.”
Obiagu may not be able to provide double digits in points every game, but he’s shot 11-for-17 from the field and averaged 6.83 points per game in these first six games. Against smaller teams like Wagner, the Pirates are going to need their big man to be as efficient as he was against the Seahawks if they are going to shut those types of teams out down the stretch.
Keeping himself out of foul trouble has been one of the biggest challenges Obiagu has faced this season having reached three fouls in each of the Pirates’ first three games, but his 4.83 rebounds and three blocks per game are irreplaceable assets defensively. In just a fifth of the games he played last season, Obiagu is already halfway to equaling the 36 blocks he totaled throughout all of 2019-20.
“Ike’s been phenomenal for us,” Rhoden said. “He’s someone who’s a really hard worker, and you can see that his potential is going right through the roof. His ability to change the game similar to how Ro did last year, I think Ike has way more potential if he just keeps going with it.”
Both Obiagu and Reynolds will have their opportunity to continue their good run of form Friday night when Seton Hall takes on St. John’s in the Big East opener.
St. John’s seems to bring the best out of Reynolds as well with the point guard having scored a game-winning buzzer-beater against them two years ago and had a season-high four steals against them last season. Obiagu will likely have his hands full guarding and battling Isaih Moore down low throughout the game.
After a roller coaster six-game non-conference schedule to start the season though, the Pirates’ two budding stars are more than confident the team is ready for the start of Big East basketball.
“We have a lot of heart and we’re not going to quit even when things get bumpy,” Reynolds said. “We faced adversity, but we all did it together. We never broke apart. We know that without each other, we’re not winning anything.”
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.