As the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament, Seton Hall had already exceed their Preseason Coaches’ Poll expectations of being the No. 6 seed. They were also coming into Saturday night’s game against Creighton off a five-game winning at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Pirates started the game well to maintain a lead throughout the first two quarters, but a second half defensive collapse saw the Bluejays jump in front. Eventually, Creighton answered every shot Seton Hall made to reclaim their lead, and they were defeated in the second round of the Big East Tournament 83-76.
These two teams played each other once during the regular season after their first game was cancelled due to coronavirus-related issues. On Feb. 13, the teams squared off in a neck-and-neck game that saw the Bluejays pull out a one-point victory in overtime on a layup with 1.7 seconds left.
Steamrolling into Saturday night’s game on a five-game winning streak, the Pirates looked ready to make it a sixth consecutive game after a strong first quarter performance.
Senior Desiree Elmore scored 10 of Seton Hall’s first 21 points, as the Pirates took a 21-16 lead into the second quarter. Elmore continued her scoring tear in the second quarter but had some help from sophomore Lauren Park-Lane and graduate transfer Andra Espinoza-Hunter.
Park-Lane went into the half with eight points, Espinoza-Hunter with seven, and Elmore with 15. Collectively, the team shot 50% from the field. Bozzella and his team looked to be in pretty good shape at halftime, as they held a 40-32 lead.
At the outset of the second half, the tide turned. The Bluejays went on to have two scoring runs, 6-0 and 7-0, that put them ahead for the first time all game with a 51-49 lead with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter. Despite having gone up by as much as 12 points, Creighton had dismantled the Pirates’ lead to take a 55-53 lead of their own into the fourth quarter.
Bozzella’s team fought back, though, as the Pirates busted into the fourth quarter with a 6-0 scoring run, forcing Creighton into a timeout. However, as the quarter progressed, the Bluejays began to keep up with the Pirates’ pace, eventually hitting three consecutive three-pointers and going on a 7-2 run. With two minutes left, Creighton held onto a five-point lead.
With 1:05 left, Creighton freshman Emma Ronsiek hit a three-point basket to put the Pirates down by six, but a mid-range jumper and a three-pointer brought the Pirates within three with 30 seconds left. An untimely foul by Espinoza-Hunter sent the Blue Jays’ best free throw shooter to the line and sent Espinoza-Hunter to the bench with 5 fouls.
“Did the kids want to win? Absolutely. Did we get outplayed? Did we get outcoached? Absolutely,” Bozzella said. “Is this probably one of the worst losses at Seton Hall for me? One hundred percent. Not even just because we lost, but because of the way we lost, knowing what was at stake.”
After some more free throws, Creighton downed the Pirates by a score of 83-76. Park-Lane and Espinoza-Hunter combined for an uncharacteristically low scoring performances with 19 points, and Elmore scored 22 of her own
“I’m just going to say I’m completely disappointed,” Bozzella said. “I’m disappointed for the players, I’m disappointed for the staff, disappointed for the managers. We didn’t deserve to win. We had a certain game plan, they didn’t follow it.”
This loss was likely disastrous for the Pirates, as coming into Saturday night, they were already on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Losing to an 8-10 Creighton team most certainly did not help those odds. Seton Hall will now have to anxiously wait to see if their name is called on Selection Monday on Mar. 15.
“They made their shots, they outplayed us,” Bozzella said. “They looked like a team that needed to win to make the NCAA Tournament and we didn’t.”
Brendan Balsamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brenbal.