On Wednesday night, for the first time since March 4, 2020, Prudential Center hosted a full crowd for a Seton Hall basketball game.
Fairleigh Dickinson University brought their men’s basketball team to Newark on Wednesday for both teams’ first games of the season and the programs’ first matchup since 2017.
The Knights ended up 9-15 in the 2020-21 COVID-19 season, good for 8th in the Northeast Conference, and are forecasted to finish 9th in the conference’s preseason poll thanks to a significant freshman class of eight new players.
Saying the Pirates came out the gates slow would be an understatement. By the time there was 12:54 remaining in the first half, neither team could muster more than 9 points, as the Pirates held a slim 9-8 lead.
Graduate student Bryce Aiken then decided to turn it on. The guard shot 3-6 from the field, including 2-2 from three-point range and 2 steals, going all out and sacrificing his body on multiple plays.
Other veterans saw an opportunity to step up, as graduate students Myles Cale and Jamir Harris continued the Pirates deep barrage, showering the Knights with three-pointers. Cale finished the half with 9 points and 4 rebounds, while Harris finish with 6 points on 2 three-pointers.
Junior Tyrese Samuel also looked like he took a step forward from his previous seasons, looking more confident inside and with the ball in his hands. He finished the half with 7 points and 5 rebounds, a team-high on the glass.
The Pirates’ dominance continued into the second half, as Aiken and Samuel continued their leading efforts with both of their best performances in Seton Hall blue. In only 18 minutes, Aiken finished with 15 points on a perfect 3-3 from three-point range along with 2 steals. Samuel, meanwhile, took the spotlight after Aiken’s departure, finishing with a game-high 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks, his first career double-double.
The three-point bombardment resumed like it never stopped in the second half, as Harris added another 7 points on 2-4 shooting from deep along with 7 from senior transfer Alexis Yetna, 6 from Cale, and 10 from junior transfer Tray Jackson.
All these fantastic individual performances fail to overshadow the huge milestone reached by a lifelong Pirate, as Cale hit two free throws with 3:30 left in regulation to secure his 1000th and 1001st career points at Seton Hall, becoming just the 46th Pirate to reach the plateau.
Cale said of the achievement, “It means a lot. I know a lot of people have been through this program, so being one of those people that got 1000 points, I’m up there with a lot of special people.”
He also went on to praise Samuel’s performance in what was his best showing as a Pirate. “He’s a junior now. So, after freshman and sophomore year this is the year you’re finally out of your shell, you know what’s going on, you feel comfortable. I think that’s happening to [Tyrese] right now,” he said.
Samuel had shown flashes of why the Pirates pursued him in recruitment in his first two season with the team but could never find the consistency needed to secure his spot on the floor for the majority of the game. If Wednesday was any indicator of what to anticipate from him throughout the course of the season, then fans should expect another breakout junior season from a player that has the ability to be a star going forward, just as they saw from guys like Myles Powell, Sandro Mamukelashvili, and Jared Rhoden.
Yes, the team played well, but both the players and coaching staff attribute some of the team’s fantastic play to the rowdy student section they had behind them. “The students were awesome. That was the first thing the kids said in the huddle. They were just so juiced when they looked up into the stands. It was just like- it was a long year last year playing in empty buildings and the students were phenomenal,” head coach Kevin Willard said.
The Pirates will look to replicate their great offensive and defensive performances on Sunday when they take on Ivy League-favorite Yale at the Prudential Center.