Seton Hall came into Saturday’s game off the back of a 36-point loss to No. 7 Creighton on Wednesday night while DePaul were just three games into their season due to previous positive COVID-19 tests within the team. It was always going to be an especially difficult game for both teams physically and mentally, but the Pirates showed true grit to fend off a late second half comeback by the Blue Demons to leave the Wintrust Arena with a win.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys fought back after not playing well on Wednesday,” head coach Kevin Willard said in his postgame interview with Gary Cohen and Dave Popkin. “I think we just got a little tired late in the second half. We had some good opportunities, but I think we just got a little stagnant in the second half.”
A Romeo Weems free throw was the only point separating either side within the first two-and-a-half minutes of play, but two dunks from Ike Obiagu woke up the Pirates’ offense in the first half. DePaul maintained small leads over the Pirates throughout the first 10 minutes of the half, but a Shavar Reynolds three-point shot gave the Pirates a lead that they did not give up for the rest of the game. Obiagu led the team in points with nine to close out the first half as the Pirates took a 12-point lead into the half time break.
Sandro Mamukelashvili had a familiarly slow start to the first half scoring just six points and giving up five turnovers, four of which came within the first eight minutes of the game. Jared Rhoden took up some of scoring responsibility in the first half with eight points of his own, and Tyrese Samuel contributed four points and five rebounds off the bench.
“Tyrese is continuing to get better and better,” Willard said. “He’s getting more comfortable out there. Playing with him and Sandro out there gives us two guys who are very skilled, good passers and understand the game.”
At the start of the second half, Mamukelashvili, Rhoden and Myles Cale each contributed to a seven-point run by the Pirates to start the second half. Both Cale and Rhoden provided a four-point buffer, and Mamukelashvili put the cherry on top of their good start with his first three-point basket of the game.
Up until the midway point of the second half, Mamukelashvili had rediscovered his ability to take over game with his passing and versatile arsenal of scoring options. He had nine points, five rebounds and two assists in the second half alone to help the Seton Hall gain as big as a 21-point lead over DePaul.
As the game entered its final eight minutes, DePaul went on a 10-2 run to pull the game within eight points. The Pirates shot zero-for-five from the field with their two points coming from two free throws made by Mamukelashvili. They also gave away four turnovers within that six-minute span and had their lead reduced to just six points when Javon Freeman-Liberty scored a pair of free throws with just over two minutes to play.
Down that stretch, Reynolds made four free throws before committing his fifth foul of the game with just a minute remaining in the game. At that point, the Blue Demons began to fall away as Charlie Moore missed two big opportunities that would have kept DePaul within two possessions of regaining the lead.
Seton Hall failed to score form the field in the final eight minutes of the match, but they were able to fend off DePaul’s resurgence and knock down their free throws to claim a 76-68 win over the Blue Demons. The win put Seton Hall at 9-5 on the season and made Willard the outright eleventh most winningest coach in the Big East with 100 conference wins in his career.
- This was a mature performance from the Pirates. They very easily could have allowed DePaul to run away with the game early given their hot start or relinquish their lead as the Blue Demons clawed their way back into the game, but the Pirates held strong. It may have not been the best basketball they played this season, but the senior figures on this team like Reynolds, Cale and Mamukelashvili stepped up when needed to ensure the team bounced back from Wednesday night’s loss.
- Jahari Long and Samuel stepped up when called upon tonight. Given Aiken’s reinjury of his right ankle, Willard said Long will likely see more time as Reynolds understudy at point guard and the freshman held his own tonight. Samuel finished the night with 10 points form five-for-seven shooting and seven rebounds in what was one of his games for Seton Hall despite getting into a bit of foul trouble.
- Can the Pirates continue to afford Mamukelashvili a first half slump in games? Seton Hall have shown any one of their starting five players can grab a game by the scruff of its neck or pull a team through rough patches throughout a game, but there’s no question they are a their best when Mamukelashvili is playing well. He’s a threat from just about anywhere on the offensive end of the court, and he can also be one of the most selfless players in the way he can drag defenders out of position to open space for his teammates. It may not be an issue in games like this, but Mamukelashvili finding consistency early in games would undoubtedly help in games against the likes of Creighton and Villanova.
Justin Sousa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.