After a lackluster defensive showing on Saturday against the Georgetown Hoyas in Washington D.C., the Pirates sent their NCAA Tournament hopes into a freefall. A Quad 2 loss is never good, especially against a team that is second-to-last in their conference.
However, it is not too late for the Pirates to continue to bolster their resume, so they took to Hinkle Fieldhouse on Wednesday to face the Butler Bulldogs and hopefully restore the winning ways they had before they faced the Hoyas.
Although no game is ever easy in the Big East, Aaron Thompson and Bo Hodges being out for the last place Butler squad was huge for the Pirates’ chances, along with Sandro Mamukelashvili, Jared Rhoden, and Myles Cale’s recently hot play.
Right off the tip, the Pirates’ defense looked back to where it was prior to Saturday’s loss, starting the game with a commanding 11-4 lead. After a good start, they then began to falter, allowing Butler to hit 5 consecutive field goals and take the lead.
As the half progressed, however, the tide began to turn. Mamukelashvili, Shavar Reynolds, and Cale all hit big shots that allowed Seton Hall to go on a 7-0 run in the last 4 minutes of the first half, while the Bulldogs went scoreless over the final 4:48. Because of their scoring streak to close the half, the Pirates entered halftime with a slim 26-24 lead.
Rhoden led the way with 10 points in the beginning 20 minutes, while Cale proved to make a huge difference with a +9 during his time on the court. Head coach Kevin Willard and his squad looked for these two to continue in a tight game.
Something Willard had to keep an eye on though, was Mamukelashvili. Just before the under-8 media timeout, the star Pirate grimaced with an injury to his knee and after starting 2-5 from the field, he finished the half 0-3.
Butler immediately came out the half swinging, taking the lead on a 10-1 scoring run, taking advantage of the Pirates starting 0-5 on free throws. The run finished on a questionable foul call on Tyrese Samuel that led to 3 free throws for the Bulldogs. Butler got out to a 34-27 lead with 16 minutes remaining after this run.
Despite stopping the tide for a short period, the Pirate offense stagnated, and the defense was heavily exploited. Seton Hall brought the score to within 4, but an 8-0 run in just 3 minutes propelled Butler’s lead to 12 points at the under-12 media timeout. At that point, the Pirates began 2-12 from the field at the start of the half and the Bulldogs started 6-10.
The Bulldogs continued to pound while the Pirates continued to miss. They may have scored more consistently than they were in the beginning of the half, but Butler was that much more consistent. With 5 minutes remaining, LaVall Jordan called a timeout for the Bulldogs as they held a 53-42 lead because of the Pirates shooting 3-20 from three-point land.
Butler continued their barrage with two consecutive threes and extended their lead to 14 points until Willard called a timeout. With 3:16 remaining, it seemed as though the Pirates’ March dreams were squashed.
The Pirates could not do anything right and Butler continued to score until the final buzzer mercifully went off, ending the game with a 61-52 Butler victory.
Butler, one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, went 15 for 16 from the line. The Pirates shot 6-27 from deep and 37.9% from the field.
Fourteen points from Rhoden and 11 from Mamukelashvili was not enough for the Pirates on Wednesday, as the Pirates’ hopes for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament were all but lost.
Seton Hall will face UConn on March 3, Senior Night for the Pirates and their first home game with fans this season. They look to send off Mamukelashvili, Cale, and Reynolds with a win that could hopefully reclaim some of the good faith they lost on their resume in their last two losses.
Brendan Balsamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @brenbal.