It was not pretty by any means, but the Seton Hall Pirates pulled out an all-important 66-60 win over the Butler Bulldogs on Wednesday night. Led by senior Jared Rhoden's 17 points and junior Tyrese Samuel's 14 points, the win propelled the Pirates back to .500 in Big East play at 8-8.
After dropping two straight against No. 8 Villanova and No. 22 UCONN, head coach Kevin Willard's squad bounced back with a nailbiting 66-64 win against DePaul on Saturday. If the Pirates really wanted to cement their position in the NCAA Tournament, the winning had to continue into Monday.
They came out the gates firing, taking a quick 7-0 lead that left as quickly as it came. The first half repeatedly teetered back and forth until the Bulldogs looked like they would bring the lead into halftime. Rhoden would not allow it, dropping 12 in the half including a buzzer-beating floater to knot the score at 34 after the first 20 minutes.
The second half was more of the same until a 10-minute, 20-4 run by the Pirates that generated some distance. Highlighted by a Samuel poster dunk, it seemed as though The Hall was going to run away with an easy conference victory until Butler started storming back. Back to a two-point game at multiple points within the final minute, the Bulldogs could not get over the hump and take the lead, as the Pirates waltzed out of Prudential Center with a 66-60 win.
Rhoden's 17-point, 4-rebound, 2-block, and 3-steal performance was the boost that Seton Hall needed, and his fantastic night was accentuated by Samuel's 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
Samuel's great game is step forward for the Canadian forward whose game regressed after a stint with COVID.
"He looks like he's back to what he was in December," Willard said.
Samuel said, "I've just tried to take it one game at a time. In prior games I wasn't in my zone, today was one of those days I felt like I was back to where I was pre-COVID."
French big man Alexis Yetna also stepped up with 10 points and 10 rebounds, good for his seventh double-double of the season. There was production up and down the Pirates' main five of Rhoden, Samuel, Yetna, Jamir Harris, and Myles Cale.
"It's a veteran group," Willard said of the five that carried the brunt of the load on Wednesday. "It's not a cohesive group because I've never had that lineup out there for that long ever, but they're a veteran group that has a lot of confidence. Even though we blew the lead, I loved what they were talking about in the huddle. They just kept saying, 'Let's just keep getting stops.'"
The Pirates have another golden opportunity to bolster their tournament resume on Saturday when they travel to Cincinnati to take on Xavier who are fresh off a 99-92, triple overtime loss to No. 11 Providence.
The Pirates are not intimidated, however. They are no stranger to closely-played, grind-it-out conference games and what it takes to pull them out.
Jamir Harris said, "It takes grit and it takes a united group -- a group that believes in each other and is willing to fight for each other. I feel like there's no team better than us at that. We genuinely care for one another, on and off the court, and we love each other. On that court we show that."