Quincy McKnight was one of three Pirates with double-figure point totals as Seton Hall fell two points short against Saint Louis Saturday night in Prudential Center opener. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)
NEWARK, NJ -- Well, it wasn't pretty, and in the end, it wasn't a win, either.
In a game that featured very little flow (12 combined assists, including four by Seton Hall, against 61 free throws shot), the Pirates couldn't complete a comeback down the stretch, dropping a 66-64 decision to a Saint Louis team that was picked to win the Atlantic 10 this year.
Here are the five thoughts:
1. Final Possession Blues
Seton Hall was only down one point when Myles Powell hit a long three with eleven seconds left, and down two with about eight ticks left when Saint Louis' Dion Wiley clanged the second of two free throws. Quincy McKnight brought the ball up, and with Powell well-covered, he drove around his man. Help came from the high side, leaving Sandro Mamukelashvili open near the top of the key. McKnight then found him for a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer, but the shot was too strong, ending the game.
There's always debate when situations like this arise at the end of games (go for two and the tie, or the win - drive inside to score, or kick out), but McKnight made the right decision - Saint Louis' game plan all night was to make life hell for Powell, and they weren't going to let him sniff the ball. Option two for McKnight was drive the ball, which he did, and if the help didn't come, he likely would have scored or at the very least drawn a foul.
But it did, and rather than force it himself, he gave Mamukelashvili a really solid, step-in look at a three-pointer. The fact that he missed the shot shouldn't have a bearing on the decision to pass to the open man, something that Kevin Willard confirmed in his postgame press conference.
Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way, and it didn't for Seton Hall tonight against a good team.
2. McKnights Like These
One of the biggest positives tonight was the play of the Pirates' lead guard. After struggling to find his stride against Wagner and Nebraska, the Sacred Heart transfer scored 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. His plus-minus of plus-9 was the best on the team, and not only that, he harassed the Billikens' guards all night on, particularly point guard Tramaine Isabell, who fouled out in the second half thanks to two charges McKnight drew on him.
"It was definitely a big confidence booster," he said afterwards of his individual play. "Just getting back into my groove, playing how I'm used to playing. I was struggling a little bit, but I definitely feel good after this game."
"I really liked the way he was aggressive in the second half," Willard added. "For him, it's all about getting used to a different level of competition, a different level of intensity. I like the way he responded."
Such a game from him, especially on defense, can only help the Pirates moving forward.
It was a rough night, however, for Myles Powell. The Pirates' leading offensive weapon was harassed all night long by the Saint Louis guards. He saw double-teams when he brought the ball around screens, was face-guarded (where the defender focuses on solely the player they're guarding in spite of the ball) by several different opponents, and when he was able to find a little daylight to shoot the ball, he was well-contested. All of it resulted in just two shots attempted in the first half, and while he did end up with a team-high 16 points, he had to really work for them (4-for-13 from the floor).
"The defender wasn't even looking at the ball in the first half," a frustrated Powell said. "It seemed they were just subbing in three, four guys just to guard me."
Because of the forced roster turnover due to the limited-time nature of college itself, everyone's always constantly in search of players who can step into great roles from year to year. It's a constant refrain for every college coach in any sport. As brilliant as Powell was last year, he was never the biggest focus of a game plan like he was tonight.
"This is all new for him," Willard said. "He didn't get face-guarded (before), he didn't get double-teamed off pick-and-rolls, and this is all a big learning process for him to be aggressive from the start. The more he sees (how teams are defending him), the more he'll recognize it, and the more he'll realize what to do."
4. What Went Wrong?
The Pirates fell behind in the first half when their defense lapsed after a solid start. Wiley in particular (17 points off the bench, 3-for-3 from deep) keyed the Billikens' spurt ahead, and they held a comfortable margin for most of the middle 20 minutes.
Seton Hall, as they are wont to do, went on a run to chip away, upping their defense, turning it into offense, and getting back in it. They had cut the Saint Louis lead to 54-50 at the under-8 media timeout, but this is where the offense stalled and where the game was ultimately lost - the Pirates' first three possessions after the media break resulted in zero points, their first five resulted in just one point, and down the stretch of the game, the Pirates made just two field goals over a nearly seven and-a-half minute span before Powell's aforementioned three-pointer cut it to one.
And even with that, the Pirates still nearly made a comeback as Saint Louis didn't exactly shine in the execution department thanks to improved defensive resolve on the part of the Hall. But it's hard to come back without made baskets, and they had the looks to keep the tides moving in their favor, but could not convert.
5. Better In November...
...than in February for these types of games. Seton Hall has a daunting non-conference schedule, and this was one of the games that makes it challenging. But while their record stands at 1-2 for the first time since the 1998-99 season, there is plenty of basketball left to play, and Willard feels that his crew will improve as the year goes along.
"Beating teams by 40 didn't teach us anything," Willard commented. "I think these games are going to teach us more about this group and let this group learn more than anything else. Everyone's got to be a little patient with this group - they work hard enough that I like where they're going. I'm not happy with the results, but I have a lot of confidence that this group will continue to get better."
Seton Hall's season next sees them travel out to California for the Wooden Legacy, taking on Grand Canyon University on Thanksgiving night, with Hawai'i or Utah due up after that.