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Talking with Tom: A year wiser, men's team needs to handle the pressure

[caption id="attachment_11898" align="alignnone" width="838"]© Joey Khan Photography © Joey Khan Photography[/caption]   Months removed from Seton Hall’s collapse a season ago, everyone still has the same question: What happened? The Pirates went from being ranked No. 19 in the nation to a bottom-of-the-barrel team that scraped out just two wins in its final 11 games.
Sterling Gibbs and Brandon Mobley are gone, but Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado are still in South Orange. If the team experiences success, how will this year’s Pirates respond? Will the roster be mentally strong enough to stay the course and avoid collapsing? Carrington thinks so. “We just lost focus last year when we went downhill,” he said at Big East Media Day. “I think last year kind of helped us. We went through it. Now, this year, if we see we’re going through the same thing, we know what to do. We have to stay focused.”
Focus will be huge for this new-look roster. After Twitter was a distraction in 2014-15, Whitehead—at the advice of Los Angeles Clippers guard Lance Stephenson—will give up social media once the season starts. His teammates will do so, as well.
Head coach Kevin Willard is pleased by the collective effort but is not sure his players will be able to sustain it for an entire year. The coach hammered home Carrington’s point about staying locked in on a goal.
“I think the biggest thing I learned [from last year] was the amount of effort you need to put in to keep guys focused when things are going well,” the coach said. “There was a lot of time and effort we should’ve spent keeping [the players] focused and blocking out the outside influences in their life.” Seton Hall has said all the right things. But none of it will matter until the team steps on the court and proves that it can A) win and B) not let one loss lead to another. The Pirates will not go undefeated.
 In all likelihood, no team in college basketball will. So being able to take a loss—whether it be a blowout, heartbreaker, or just a poor outing—on the chin and moving on to the next game could wind up defining the season. The team failed to do so last year and paid the price. According to Whitehead, though, the mentality of this year’s bunch is sturdier than last year’s. “Mentally, yes [we’re stronger], just by experience,” he said. “We all just know how it feels to lose, and we would never want to feel that again. That’s why we go hard in practice every day.” See? All the right things. But we will see what actually happens when the Pirates start taking on water.   Tom Duffy is a journalism major from Woodbridge, N.J. He can be reached at thomas.duffy@student. or on Twitter @TJDHoops.

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