The story of Wednesday night’s loss to No. 17 Creighton was a tale of two halves that didn’t fall in Seton Hall’s favor. After an electric first half that saw Myles Cale shoot 4-for-5 from three-point range and Bryce Aiken put up 12 points, the Pirates failed to maintain their astute defensive efforts in the closing moments of the second half.
Seton Hall well and truly outplayed Creighton up until the under-12 mark where their perimeter defense crumbled and their hot shooting cooled down. Aiken played his best basketball to date in a Seton Hall jersey and Sandro Mamukelashvili seemed to have woken up in the second half with an early three-point basket, but a Mitch Ballock-led Bluejays side ran rampant over the Pirates to seal an 85-81 comeback win at the Prudential Center.
“We didn’t protect the three-point line,” Cale said. “They saw they were down 16 and got trigger happy. They were all falling for them and we weren’t rebounding. It was a whole team loss. Yeah, that was a bad one.”
The game started with Seton Hall and Creighton exchanging punch-for-punch as the Bluejays maintained a slim lead that only stretched to six points at its peak. Creighton knocked down eight of their first nine shots from beyond the arc with Ballock and Marcus Zegarowski combining for 24 points, but Myles Cale and Bryce Aiken would be the duo that stole the spotlight during the game’s first 20 minutes.
In an impressive individual moment, Aiken collected a defensive rebound and ran the ball on his own before pulling up for a three-point jumper to give the Pirates their first lead of the game at the under-seven. Along with his first three-point basket of the night and two free throws, Aiken added two more free throws and a layup, bringing his first half total to 12 points.
Myles Cale had the final word in the first half for Seton Hall, however, when he scored three consecutive three-point baskets to extend their lead to 13 points. Zegarowski would respond with a three-point basket of his own before the buzzer went off, but the Pirates looked strong on either side of the court as they closed out the half on a 26-13 run.
Seton Hall shot 65.5% from the field from 29 shots and scored seven of their 12 attempted three-point baskets in the first half. Jared Rhoden added 11 points to the mix along with a combined nine points from Mamukelashvili, Ike Obiagu and Shavar Reynolds Jr.
Aiken and Mamukelashvili came out the gates hot as Seton Hall looked to stamp their authority on the game early in the second half. They scored Seton Hall’s first 14 points of the half with Aiken providing seven of those from two layups and his third three-point basket of the game.
“I thought it was really great having him out there,” Willard said. “Him being aggressive, I thought, really changed the tempo of the game, so I’m really excited about where he is.”
As the game entered its final 10 minutes, though, Ballock grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck and tore apart the Pirates’ perimeter defense. The senior guard put up 21 points from 7-for-10 shooting in the second half with 16 points and all four of his three-point baskets coming in those final 10 minutes of the game.
“When Ballock’s going the way he is, he’s just a tough cover,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “He made a couple tough ones in the first half and when he gets going, they do a great job of just looking for him. We gave up some second shots where he was able to get free, and, again, he’s just a great player. I’ve hated coaching against him over the last four years.”
Ballock led the Bluejays’ 14-2 run in the final three minutes of the game, annihilating the Pirates 16-point lead with just over a minute left before Zegarowski pushed them into the lead with a three-point basket of his own. Tied at 81-81 with 41 seconds to go, Ballock put the nail in the coffin with his fourth and final three-point basket of the half to seal the win for Creighton.
Seton Hall shot 1-for-7 to close out the game and hit just 33.3% of their attempts from the field, a drastic decline from their efficiency in the first half. Creighton saw a dip in their scoring as well, but they shot 35% from three-point range as opposed to the Pirates’ 15.4% in the second half.
“I said we’re not very good defensively, and that’s on me,” Willard said. “We’ve been a top 20 defensive team over the last seven years, and we might not be Division I now. I told them we have to get stops when games are on the line. It’s easy to get stops when you’re playing well but when you’re not playing well, you have to figure out how to get stops.”
The Pirates gave up 10 points off turnovers and 11 second chance points. The Pirates scored 13 points off turnovers and eight off second chance points in the first half alone, but they only scored four points off second chances in the second half.
Despite a season-high 21 points from Aiken on the night, both Cale and Rhoden got cold in the second half with a combined four points after collectively scoring 29 in the first half. Mamukelashvili was second in scoring for the Pirates in the second half with seven points and finished the game with 11.
No. 3 Villanova awaits the Pirates on Saturday as they look to avoid a third consecutive loss and a second to Villanova in 11 days. With this being their last opportunity to snatch a resume booster heading into the final month of the Big East regular season, the stakes are high for Seton Hall to avenge tonight’s loss and the away loss to Villanova.
“We lost a tough game to Nova, and I thought we responded great,” Willard said. “Now we’ve lost a tough one and we have to respond again. I thought they responded well in practice, but that’s life in this league. We’ll see what they’re made of.”
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.