The result didn't go their way, but the Seton Hall men’s basketball team returned to action for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellations of the Big East and NCAA tournaments back in March.
Though the familiar faces of Myles Powell, Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill were no longer in the starting five for the Pirates, the resilience and grit of this Seton Hall team from last season was still there. After playing from behind for most of the game against Louisville, second-half heroics from Sandro Mamukelashvili helped the Pirates claw back from an 11-point deficit to finish within one point of the Cardinals in a 70-71 loss.
Mamukelashvili finished with 22 points, scoring 13 in the second half and collecting 10 rebounds as well. Seton Hall’s Georgia-native provided an all-around threat for the Pirates going forward, driving at the net, battling through traffic down low and shooting two-for-four from three-point range. Takal Molson, Jared Rhoden and Shavar Reynolds contributed five points each in the second half. Reynolds made his first career start, finishing with 11 points, three assists and three rebounds.
With just 0.7 seconds remaining and the score at 71-68, Molson won a foul for an opportunity to level the game with three free throws. He looked as composed as he could be for a player also making his debut for Seton Hall, but his final free throw hit the rim and left the Pirates in heart break after a resilient second-half effort. Moslon finished the game with eight points, one assist and six rebounds for a solid first game under Kevin Willard.
Louisville gained the lead over the Pirates from the under-five minute mark in the first half and held firm until late in the second half. An eight-point run by the Pirates threatened to break the Cardinals’ streak with five minutes to go, but it wasn’t until Mamukelashvili scored a three-point shot with just over three minutes left that the Pirates overtook their opponent.
Foul trouble, however, hurt the Pirates as they looked to edge out Louisville. Ike Obiagu and Tyrese Samuel were both on four fouls, and Rhoden would go on to foul out of the match before Molson stepped up for his free throws. Louisville’s JJ Traynor and Dre Davis scored a combined three free throws in the final three minutes along with a layup from Davis and Jae’Lyn Withers to keep the Pirates just out of reach.
Harvard-graduate transfer Bryce Aiken also made his Seton Hall debut off the bench in this game but was forced to exit early after rolling his ankle in the first half. He shot one-for-four from the field and finished with just three points.
“He sprained it pretty good,” Willard said. “It’s probably a good week (off), I would say. Those are the kinds of injuries that when you haven’t played, you get.”
Considering the Pirates had only resumed practice after their mandatory two-week COVID-19 quarantine on Monday, their hearty finish the game was encouraging. Even without the leadership of McKnight and Powell, the team showed it still had the character that dug them out of losing positions plenty of times last season.
- Molson and Reynolds looked good against the Cardinals. Molson drove at the net and took big shots when the opportunities presented themselves, and Reynolds was his typically reliable two-way self. He stepped up in his first start, shooting four-for-eight from the field and providing a competent defensive presence to keep the score manageable.
- Obiagu and Samuel seemed the most effected by the two-week quarantine. It took Obiagu a while to find his groove in the paint, and he was already on four fouls by the time he did. Samuel looked ready to go after scoring a three-point shot after coming in off the bench, but that was about all he contributed on the night.
- Mamukelashvili can be the guy for the Pirates. With Aiken's health in the air, the Pirates need the Georgian to continue taking charge when games get tight. Though Rhoden's shooting was off in this game, he will also provide the Pirates with another clutch player once he and the team get ack to full fitness.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99 and the Setonian Sports @SetonianSports.