The historical context of the first Big East conference game at Walsh Gymnasium in 37 years was overshadowed by a sorry performance from Seton Hall in an 84-63 loss to St. John's. Led by 19 points and 7 rebounds from Posh Alexander and 17 points and 10 rebounds from Aaron Wheeler, the Johnnies perfectly executed an aggressive defensive game plan that the Pirates could not overcome.
Thanks to the original matchup between the teams on Dec. 20 being cancelled thanks to COVID-19 issues within Seton Hall's program, the Pirates had a rare opportunity to play a Big East game at their on-campus arena for the first time since Feb. 4, 1985.
With an electric, 1300-person, student-only crowd, the atmosphere was electric before tip.
You would never know with the way the Pirates played on Monday.
Right out the gates, St. John's played with an aggression and physicality that caught Seton Hall off-guard. A full-court press and consistent double-teams suffocated the home offense and set the Red Storm up for consistent open opportunities with the ball.
The Hall found themselves down by as many as 21 at one point, but a late 15-4 run led by senior Jared Rhoden cut the lead down to just 10 at halftime.
The Johnnies defense made the game as lopsided as it was, holding the Pirates to 28.9% from the field in the first half while shooting 47.4% themselves.
With more momentum after the first 20 minutes, it seemed as though the Pirates had a shot, as a Jamir Harris and-one brought the Pirates to within eight, but that was quickly followed by a 20-4 scoring run by St. John's that iced the game. The Red Storm defense held the Pirates to just one field goal in a 9:38 span, enough to extend their lead to 27.
Graduate guard Myles Cale said, "They jumped on us early. Their pressure was a lot and they just played harder than us. They just looked like they wanted it a little bit more and we take full responsibility."
Alexander and Wheeler carried the load for the Johnnies, combining for 28 points and 17 rebounds, along with 10 from Montez Mathis.
"I think putting Aaron Wheeler in makes a huge difference," said head coach Kevin Willard. "Just because of his length, I think he's a difference-maker. With him, [Joel] Soriano, and [Julian] Champagnie out there, that's a big frontline. You get those guards out there that are coming after you. I thought Wheeler and Soriano have done a great job, in both games, of really not giving up anything easy out of their press. To me, Wheeler was the biggest difference in the game."
On the Pirates' end, Rhoden had 12 points and 12 rebounds, good for his fourth double-double of the season. Cale had a team-high 16 points, while Harris, the graduate point guard, had 12, followed by junior Tray Jackson's 11.
Now 3-5 in conference play after starting the season 9-1, Willard and his team have a crucial rematch coming up against No. 22 Marquette on Wednesday at Prudential Center.