Off the back of a two-game away stint last week, Seton Hall men’s basketball returned to the Prudential Center for their second game of the season against Marquette. With just about month left for teams to make their cases for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Pirates came into this one knowing they had to grab the win.
I wasn’t the prettiest performance of the season from either team – combining for 29 fouls and 29 turnovers – but a strong start from Sandro Mamukelashvili in the first half and solid second half displays from Jared Rhoden and Shavar Reynolds helped the Pirates stave off the Golden Eagles for a 57-51 win.
Neither side shot particularly well to start the game with the Pirates shooting 5-for-13 and the Golden Eagles 4-for-11 from the field at the under-13 mark. Rhoden found himself on the ball for shots often in the first 10 minutes of the game and shot 2-for-5 from the field to start.
Mamukelashvili spent the early parts of the first half playing creator with two looping passes into Rhoden and Tyrese Samuel throughout the half highlighting his contributions. He and Rhoden shot 3-for-7 to end the half and combined for 14 of the Pirates’ 26 points.
Though his numbers don’t show it, Ike Obiagu had a massive influence in the early proceedings of the game to help Seton Hall get in front of Marquette. He had two blocks in the opening eight minutes of the half and kept Theo John to just two points from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes of the game.
The tempo of the game was defined by Seton Hall going on a 7-0 run for a 17-10 lead before Marquette put up six unanswered baskets of their own to make it 17-16. It was a battle of cat and mouse as the Pirates fought to keep the Golden Eagles at an arm’s distance on the scoreboard despite a poor shooting night overall.
Myles Cale broke that run by Marquette with Seton Hall’s first three-point basket of the game, but Marquette remained within four points until the last 20 seconds of the half. Mamukelashvili would give the Pirates a six-point at 26-20 lead with a layup heading into the half time break.
Bryce Aiken missed the game due to a knee injury, and head coach Kevin Willard said the Harvard-graduate transfer is scheduled for an MRI on Monday.
“He didn’t practice all week, so we tried to give him some rest because he’s got some really good tendonitis in there,” Willard said. “He’s doing everything he can possibly do to get on the court – rehab and working – but unfortunately it’s just one of those things that’s tough and really frustrating for him and me.”
Willard also said that his staff don’t believe the injury is anything new and that it may just be some scar tissue issues, but they will not know for sure until after the MRI on Monday.
In his absence, freshman Jahari Long played understudy to Shavar Reynolds and did an admirable job filling in when needed defensively. Going forward, Long gave up two of the Pirates’ eight turnovers in the final eight minutes of the first half. Mamukelashvili had five alone, making it 10 in total for Seton Hall in the first half.
“I was so proud of the way Jahari played, playing 18 minutes as a freshman after not playing very much,” Willard said. “Defensively he was really solid, he did a great job for us defensively. Offensively, he hasn’t played with those guys very much, so we weren’t very smooth with him out there.”
Long would give up two more turnovers in the second half and finish without a point, rebound or assist, but it was just his fourth game of the season playing over 10 minutes.
Koby McEwen led the way for Marquette with seven first half points with DJ Carton scoring five and Jamal Cain scoring four. The Pirates found most of their success in the first half in the paint where they outscored Marquette 20-10.
Coming out of the half time break, Rhoden put the Pirates on a 7-0 run scoring all seven with a layup, his first three-point basket of the game and a pair of free throws. Though he still struggled from the field shooting 4-for-10, he hit two of his three three-point baskets and scored all four of his free throws in the second half.
“I love how he was missing early, but he persevered through it,” Reynolds said. “He didn’t let it get to his head. He didn’t let it change him on the defensive end no matter what his offensive shots were. Defensively, he stayed solid.”
Rhoden had an important steal down the stretch at the under-three mark with Seton Hall’s lead at five points. He and Reynolds combined for 12 of Seton Hall’s final 16 points of the game and added seven rebounds and four assists to his 20 points.
The Pirates ran into a bit of defensive worry as both Obiagu and Reynolds found themselves son three fouls each. Obiagu would eventually foul out with four minutes to play, but Reynolds managed to play out the final seven minutes of the game without making his fifth foul of the game.
“[Willard] was actually on the bench like ‘I don’t know how much longer I can keep you out,’” Reynolds said. “I’m glad he had the trust in me to be smart and not pick up my fifth foul.”
Without Obiagu on the court, John found himself with a bit more room to maneuver under the hoop with Tyrese Samuel defending him. He scored two free throws and slammed a potentially momentum-shifting dunk into the net with 49 seconds left and the score at 49-47.
Reynolds would come up big once again, though, as he won a foul off Cain and scored his two free throws to put the Pirates back in front by four. Seton Hall’s final six points would all come from the line through Reynolds, Cale and Rhoden.
After grinding out the win in a potential trap-game for the Pirates, Rhoden was aware of the impact it could have on their NCAA Tournament hopes.
“That’s one of the things we could talk about all day,” Rhoden said. “You look at those bracketologies, and we’re looking at all that stuff, it means a lot to us. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to since we were little kids. Knowing how big this game was and how important the opportunity was, we had to take advantage of it.”
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.