After what will likely be the toughest three-game stretch of the Seton Hall men’s basketball team’s season, the Pirates walk away without a win to their name. An away loss to No. 3 Villanova and a home loss to No. 17 Creighton was capped off by another home loss in the reverse fixture to Villanova over an 11-day stretch of games.
Both sides shot about 41% from the field in the first half, but Villanova started the game shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and finished the half shooting 50% from three-point range. Seton Hall made just two of their eight attempts from range while also giving up 13 points off eight turnovers in the first half. The Pirates tightened up their perimeter defense towards the end of the first half, but a 15-point second-half performance from Jermaine Samuels in the second half helped the Wildcats see out an 80-72 win at the Prudential Center.
“We had a hard time mentally getting going early in the game and against a team like Villanova, they’re just going to keep attacking us,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “We’re disappointed, but we have a whole lot of college basketball left to play.”
Justin Moore and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl combined for 23 of Villanova’s 37 first half points with Moore shooting 3-for-4 from the perimeter. Collin Gillespie had a quiet start to the game points wise, but he provided five assists to go along with his five points while Cole Swider got in on the three-point action with two long range baskets of his own.
Though each of the players who saw time on the floor for the Pirates scored in the first half, it was a poor shooting day for the team. Sandro Mamukelashvili shot 2-for-7, Myles Cale shot for 2-for-5, Jared Rhoden shot 1-4 and Bryce Aiken shot 0-3 to combine for just 14 points heading into the halftime break.
“I really though offensively, we were stuck in the mud a little bit,” Willard said. “Our offense gave them too many easy opportunities that dug us into a whole. You have to play a really good A-game against these teams.”
Villanova’s three-point shooting barely dropped off in the second half shooting 4-for-10 overall. Samuels and Aiken exchanged three-point baskets midway through the half, but Moore and Caleb Daniels dropped back-to-back three pointers to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game at 16 points.
“It’s mind boggling,” Willard said. “We’re working really hard and doing a lot of good things on the defensive end, but we’re just having little breakdowns at really bad times with the wrong guys. We have to somehow get better at it or else we’re going to continue to struggle.”
Down the stretch, Cale started to catch fire with two consecutive three-point baskets to bring the score within seven points for Seton Hall. With just over two minutes left to play, though, Tyrese Samuel fouled Samuels to send him to the line and regain Villanova’s nine-point lead.
Shavar Reynolds provided a few points in the dying embers of the game as the Wildcats’ lead fluctuated between seven and nine points, but the Pirates couldn’t overcome the first half deficit they’d put themselves in with a late run in the second half.
“It was a tough last couple of games, but you have to show what you’re made of when adversity hits,” Reynolds said. “We want to get into a good position for March Madness, but I think we’re fine. We’re playing and doing the right things, it’s the detail. We’re playing defense for 22-25 seconds, and then a back-cut happens. It’s the details we have to clean up.”
Heading into next week’s games against Providence and the University of Connecticut, the Pirates will be looking to tighten up their three-point defense. The Pirates have now allowed 36 three-point baskets over their last three games with the opposition averaging 45% from beyond the arc during this stretch.
“Coach put a lot of emphasis on protecting that three-point line, and that’s been our Achilles heel for the past few games,” Cale said. “I think it’s just a lot of our hands are down, we’re not active enough and we’re not closing down short.”
Despite the tough run of form, the Pirates are walking away from this week-and-a-half with their heads up and lessons learned to kick off a congested February schedule next Wednesday.
“It’s never a lost week because every day’s a learning experience,” Reynolds said. “Loss or win, you can still learn from it. Now, this tells us that if we lock in defensively, we can be a very good team and reach our potential. No game should ever let you down because at the end of the day you got to keep going. You have to keep pushing.”
Seton Hall will play five games in 20 days in February with their home game against Butler yet to be rescheduled. Willard said they were working on scheduling their game against Butler that was originally postponed due to COVID-19 related issues within the Butler program, but it is unlikely their away game against Xavier will be rescheduled.
“Once you get to February, you stop being happy and start kicking the dog,” Willard said. “we have to rebound, we have to comeback and we have to get back after it on defensive end especially against two tough teams.”
Justin Sousa can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.