A nail-biting third encounter of the season between Seton Hall and St. John's fell in favor of the Pirates behind a real team performance.
Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jared Rhoden each had a double-double, combinig for 39 points and 27 rebounds on the night. Myles Cale also hit double digits in points with 16 to go with eight rebounds, and Ike Obiagu made seven blocks and grabbed seven rebounds in a monstrous defensive performance that pushed Seton Hall to a 77-69 over time win.
This was a special win for the Pirates for a multitude of reasons. It ended a run of four straight losses with the most recent one being at St. John's, but it was also their first game in Madison Square Garden since the 2019 Big East Tournament final against Villanova.
"It's the best place to play at," Mamukelashvili said. I love playing out here. And especially with these guys. So it was an unbelievable feeling just coming on the court for the first time and just realizing we're back and the Big East Tournament is happening. So I feel like that boosted our confidence a lot more that we were here right now and we're playing in the best stadium in the world. So definitely was amazing."
St. John’s got the ball rolling through Rasheem Dunn, but the Pirates responded with an 8-0 run with back-to-back three-point baskets from Sandro Mamukelashvili and Shavar Reynolds. Mamukelashvili stole the ball off Josh Roberts in the back court to send himself through to the basket for an open dunk. Cale got in on the action with a driving layup to make it 10 points in the opening five minutes of the first half for the Pirates.
After a driving layup from Posh Alexander brought St. John’s within one point of the Hall, Rhoden hit a three-point basket for his first of the game. Julian Champagnie responded with a turnaround jumper on the next Red Storm possession, but Rhoden scored off a driving layup of his own to make it 15-11 Seton Hall. Greg Williams Jr. and Mamukelashvili each scored a layup to close out the scoring run from both teams.
Rhoden said that there was more personal investment in this game as well being back in New York and playing against Seton Hall's only other metropolitan rival in the Big East.
"Means a lot to me coming back home. Dream come true," Rhoden said. "I had a great conversation with Coach this week. And I think that kind of helped me, boosted my morale. I came in being aggressive, being gritty doing everything and everything else will come in line."
Jahari Long extended the Pirates’ lead to seven points after scoring off his initial drive and winning a foul in the process to earn an extra free throw that he scored.
The Red Storm began to claw their way back into the game with a 6-2 out of the media timeout, but the Pirates responded well on the fast break. Mamukelashvili grabbed the defensive rebound to set up Rhoden for the first of those two fast break points. The second came through Cale who collected another defensive rebound and went coast-to-coast for the layup.
Both teams began to settle into stubborn defensive setups, combining for just nine points over the next four minutes. Cale added to the Pirates' lead with a three-point, and Mamukelashvili brightened up a low-scoring stretch with an impressive layup after receiving the ball and striding by two defenders at full speed.
Marcellus Earlington was a thorn in the Pirates' side from three-point range again, though, as his first of the game brought them within three points with just over three minutes left in the first half. A poor give away by Tyrese Samuel during Seton Hall's next offensive possession led to Champagnie reducing the deficit to just one point with a layup.
Six turnovers in the final five minutes of the first half opened the door for the Red Storm to surmount their comeback. It looked like they would be the ones to take a lead into half time after Rasheem Dunn scored off the fast break with 49 seconds left, but Obiagu would have the last word of the half.
Reynolds did well to prevent Alexander from making it a three-point lead for St. John's with a drive to the net, and it led to Rhoden and Obiagu combining in the build up to a powerful dunk from the center.
A tight first half battle ended with the Pirates taking a slight 33-32 lead in the half time break. Champagnie led the game in points by one over Mamukelashvili with 12, but the Georgian power forward had seven rebounds as well to highlight his hard work off the glass in the first 20 minutes.
"He was phenomenal," Rhoden said. "We always preach to Sandro you're one of the best ball handlers. We trust him to handle the ball under pressure. He does it all the time in practice. We have the ultimate confidence in him. I think he did a very well job today."
Seton Hall started the second half with three trips to the free throw line, but Mamukelashvili would only connect with two of his four shots. Champagnie scored from a layup and Roberts put the Red Storm in front with a pair of free throws, but Obiagu would put Seton Hall back in front at 37-36 after scoring free throws of his own.
Though Obiagu had a solid first half, he started the second half incredibly well in the back court. He finished the game with seven blocks — five of which came in the second half — and had a 20 second stint where he denied three different shots from St. John's.
Going forward Mamukelashvili continued to dominate the paint with his graceful drives towards the net. A one-handed slam from the power forward gave Seton Hall a six-point lead and forced St. John's into a timeout to regather themselves heading into the final 12 minutes.
That timeout was a big help for the Red Storm, though, as Earlington helped them fight back to level the score at 50-50. Both he and Williams hit big three-point baskets, but a Mamukelashvili and Takal Molson's combined four points down the stretch kept St. John's from taking the lead.
With two minutes left on the clock and the Pirates up by three, Earlington came up big again for St. John's with a three-point basket to tie the game at 60-60. A pair of free throws from Dunn would put them ahead by two points with 1:06 left on the clock, but Cale leveled the score with a drive to the net
Seton Hall found themselves in possession in the dying moments of regularion time, but Mamukelashvili failed to score from two attempts after they inbounded the ball. Tied at 62-62, the Pirates' season was ultimately going to come down to these final five minutes of over time.
Mamukelashvili stepped up to the occasion in over time, providing two assists and a block. Rhoden also stepped up as St. John's looked to foul the Pirates in an effort to stop the clock and surmount another come back. He scored six of his eight free throws to close out the game. Cale put the finishing touch on the game with a dunk to secure a 77-69 victory.
The praises for everyone's individual performances after the game were thrown around by Willard, Mamukelashvili and Rhoden.
"I didn't know [Mamukelashvili] played 44 minutes and 16 seconds," Willard said. "I thought he played extraordinary. Handling it. We worked through him through the post and I thought what was really probably his best, what he did better than anything tonight, he just kicked it out of the post, made simple plays. Really we were able to get some drives on the weak side. And I just think he's a phenomenal player. He backed up Player of the Year tonight, that's for sure."
Mamukelashvili, though, thought Rhoden was the X-Factor that gave Seton Hall the extra bit of energy they needed to overcome St. John's on Thursday.
"I love Jared. How hard he plays is off the charts," Mamukelashvili said. "And today I really saw that Jared who is a dog. And before we -- before the game we talked and were telling each other how to play and just to stay active. I feel he did an incredible job. He had 16 boards today, I think. And definitely player of the match. So I feel like it's just the beginning."
Willard was pleased with the result, but he was just as happy to simply be back in MSG for another Big East Tournament.
"I love this building," Willard said. "I love this tournament. When I was walking in today, it brought me the most excitement I've had...in years. After the way last year ended, it's just great to be back here."
Seton Hall will be back in the building Friday night for a Big East Tournament semifinal clash with No. 8 seed Georgetown. Georgetown come into the game on a five-game win streak and after beating No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.