Five Pirates scored at least 10 points in a blowout 74-55 win over Creighton on Friday night. Sophomore point guard Kadary Richmond led the way with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists followed up by graduate Jamir Harris' 13, graduate Myles Cale's 12, junior Tyrese Samuel's 11, and senior Jared Rhoden's 11.
Without point guard Bryce Aiken for the fifth straight game, it was hard to expect more from the Seton Hall offense especially against a Creighton team that has beat Villanova at home and Marquette and UCONN on the road.
Not only this, but the Pirate defense has given up an average of 73.5 points per game in conference play, a complete flip from a once top-ranked defense in non-conference play.
However, the Pirates seemed to be out of the woods of their annual January swoon with a win against Georgetown on Tuesday, and their first-half start on Friday was the statement, "We're back."
They burst out of the gates, not only debuting new, grey jerseys, but debuting a new physicality that allowed them to take a 13-1 lead just over four minutes into the game.
The Pirates kept sailing and saw their lead grow to as large as 24, taking a 37-16 lead into halftime.
A solid offensive performance was bolstered by an incredible defensive showcase that saw the Blue Jays shoot 25% from the floor and commit 9 turnovers.
Despite starting sloppy in the second half and allowing Creighton to get within 13, Seton Hall kept the sixth-place Jays at a distance thanks to Richmond's 8 second-half points.
The sophomore looked as good as he has since his stellar performance against UCONN, finishing with a game-high +23 plus-minus.
Head coach Kevin Willard said of the budding guard, "You're starting to see the evolution of a really really good player. It's hard playing 24 minutes per game and sharing time with a guy to now all of a sudden going to playing 38 minutes per game and play three games in five days. I think he's handled the responsibility phenomenally and I think he's playing with a lot of confidence and I think he's just starting to evolve into a really good point guard."
Graduate Ike Obiagu continued terrorizing opponents in the paint, elevating his school blocks record with another 4 along with 6 rebounds.
"[He] makes you second guess," Samuel said of his paint partner. "In practice, because I usually guard Ike, he makes me second guess every move I do. I just try to be quicker than him and try to get him off his feet but his second jump is actually crazy. You just hope it goes in but most of the time he blocks it, though."
Samuel, who has struggled mightily since returning from his stint in COVID protocols, seemed to return to form on Friday with his double-digit point performance.
"I felt good," Samuel said. "Of course, the last few games haven't been going my way, but thanks to the managers for keeping me going to break out of this little slump that I'm in. I think from here going forward I'm going to continue to progress and continue to do good things and get these [wins]."
The defense turned it around so well thanks to a heightened aggression and increased physicality. The crowd ended up on their feet numerous times thanks to some great defensive possessions.
"[Defense] was our main focus coming into the game," Willard said of his team's game plan coming into Friday. "We didn't get back from Georgetown until about 4:00 in the morning, but we practiced on Wednesday which we usually don't do. [Creighton] is so good offensively, we just wanted to come out and jump on them and make sure they didn't make any three's early and get any confidence early. I thought we were really locked in on trying to get O'Connell and Hawkins off the three-point line."
With the team finally looking back to where they were before their 17-day COVID-pause, they have three consecutive games against ranked opponents on the horizon, first with No. 21 Xavier on Wednesday.