When Georgetown’s the opponent, every team knows the game they’re about to play is going to be a fight for every basket. That’s what Seton Hall got on Friday night and while they put up a valiant effort to reach the Big East Tournament championship game, they just fell short in the end.
It was a tough loss to take in as the Pirates consistently found themselves tied or within two points of the Hoyas. This game produced the most heart out of each of the players than any other performance this season, but they beat themselves with missed free throws and bad fouls to fall 66-58 at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m really proud of this basketball team,” coach Kevin Willard said. “This was a great group to coach. They played hard, they practiced hard, they had a great attitude. We got close to making the NCAA Tournamnet after losing three great seniors last year, but I’m proud of this team.”
Early in the game, Seton Hall looked to get Jared Rhoden involved off the back of his double-double against St. John’s with looks in behind Georgetown’s defense. He got their first basket of the game after receiving a pass from Sandro Mamukelashvili at the top of the key for an easy layup.
Jamorko Pickett had the instant response for the Hoyas in their first offensive possession of the game, knocking down a three-point basket to get his team going. Georgetown started 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the first four minutes with Dante Harris and Pickett again finding the net from range before the first media timeout.
Ike Obiagu scored two free throws he had earned from a foul just before the break, and Mamukelashvili brought the Pirates within two points with a three-pointer in the next play.
Despite Georgetown’s 0-for-4 scoring drought during this period, the Hoyas managed to keep at least a two-point lead over the Pirates.
Chudier Bile broke the Hoyas’ inconsistent shooting with his first basket of the game initiating a 7-0 run by Georgetown. Harris scored the second of that run from a drive to the basket, and Jahvon Blair put a bow on top with a three-point basket to send his side into the media timeout with a nine-point lead at 22-13.
Reynolds killed Georgetown’s run with a jump-shot out of the timeout, but Seton Hall beat themselves by giving up a handful of fouls in tight moments of the game. Pickett and Donald Carey knocked down a pair of free throws each in back-to-back possessions, and Bile scored a three-point basket to give them their biggest lead of the game at 11 points at the under-eight-minute mark.
Rhoden closed out the half spearheading the Pirates’ comeback, scoring 10 points in the final six minutes of the first half to end it with 14 points total. Reynolds came up big with a steal as Georgetown’s offensive transition slowed down, and it set Rhoden up for a basket off the fast break with 22 seconds left in the half.
Georgetown did not hit a shot in those closing seconds of the game but did take a 36-34 lead into the break. Mamukelashvili, who also had a double-double in Thursday’s win over St. John’s, shot just 1-for-8 from the field and finished the first half with three points, three rebounds and three assists.
Seton Hall began to chip away at Georgetown’s stubborn defense towards the end of the half, out-rebounding them 18-16 and out-scoring them in points in the paint 18-8. Without their Big East Co-Player of the Year picking up where he left off against St. John’s, though, Seton Hall found themselves down at half time by two points.
Reynolds and Rhoden combined for five points to start the second half with the latter’s three-pointer tying the game at 39-39. Blair would regain the Hoyas’ lead with a jumper, and another three-point basket from Harris put the Hoyas ahead of the Pirates by five points again.
A game of cat-and-mouse ensued and evidently embodied the momentum for the remainder of the game until the final minute. Georgetown fell victim to defensive collapses or failed to defend Seton Hall’s ball movement and allow them to tie the game, but they would instantly respond with a basket on the next play or by winning a foul for free throws.
Another fast break basket from a Reynolds steal followed by Takal Molson scoring his first three-point basket of the season was met with a pull-up jumper from Harris. Mamukelashvili’s second basket of the game and a hook shot from Molson tied the game at 50-50, but Blair hit another jumper to put the Hoyas back in front by two.
Missed free throws would ultimately put the nail in the coffin for Seton Hall as they shot 5-for-11 from the line on the night. Mamukelashvili made one of his two free throws at the under-six to give the Pirates their first lead of the game since Rhoden’s game-opening basket, but the Hoyas would not back down despite giving up their lead.
“I think they were a little more feisty,” Rhoden said. “They executed some big plays at the end, and they ultimately won the game.”
Seton Hall would tie the game two more times at 55-55 with 4:46 to play and 57-57 with 1:57 left on the clock, but an and-one play from Bile practically put the game to bed. Rhoden missed one of his two free throws on the Pirates’ next possession, and Georgetown would score six of their seven in the final minute of the game to seal their win.
“We missed a lot of free throws where we could have given ourselves a one or two-point cushion,” Willard said. “We missed a lot of free throws in the last three minutes, four minutes of the game where we ended up with empty possessions. You can’t go 5-for-11 from the free throw line when they’re going 18-for-25.”
The loss put an end to a Big East season that lacked the consistency and, eventually, the outcome Seton Hall envisioned for themselves heading into the year. With Bryce Aiken out injured for most of the second half of the year and the team falling into poor form late in the regular season, this loss felt like the final twist of the knife in a disappointing year.
Seemingly, the Pirates’ only hope of playing another game this season is if they are invited to the National Invitation Tournament. However, it’s still unclear as to whether Seton Hall would accept the invitation should they receive one.
“I have really put a whole lot of thought into it at this moment,” Willard said. “I’m not 100% sure that’s going to be the best thing for this team. I wouldn’t play Sandro in the NIT, and I have some seniors where I’m not sure going into a hotel in Texas is the best thing for my seniors. As of right now, I’m leaning towards not doing it because of everything we’ve been through this year.”
With this potentially being the last game in a Seton Hall jersey for Reynolds and Myles Cale as well as Mamukelashvili, Willard took a moment to reflect on just how much the four-year Pirates had grown over their time at Seton Hall.
“It’s always tough at the end of the year,” Willard said. “I’m proud of them. They’ve been here for four years, and they’ve given their heart and soul, they do great in classroom, they do great in the community and they’ve been great on the basketball court. I’m going to miss them very much, but they can hold their heads high because they’ve had great careers.”
Justin Sousa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.