Friday, November 11, 2016

Seton Hall youth serves win in season opener

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- When assessing the prospects of a youthful Seton Hall team, Tony Bozzella stressed the need for his group to find consistency.

For most of the morning and afternoon Friday, his Pirates heeded their coach's advice, looking like a veteran team more often than not.

"I said to the girls, 'any time you win, you have to be happy,'" Bozzella said after Seton Hall overcame a tense opening quarter to emerge with a 74-60 victory over Savannah State in their maiden contest of the 2016-17 season. "The first game's hard. At one point, we played seven freshmen who had never played a college basketball game before, and played without a senior on the floor. Anytime you can get a win, that's fine."

Three Pirates posted double-figure scoring totals in the winning effort, led by JaQuan Jackson's 21, a tally that validated her coach's praise of her scoring potential.

"I think I took pretty good shots, but they just didn't fall," said the junior guard, who amassed her 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting. "They'll fall eventually."

Jackson was aided by Seton Hall's two-headed point guard attack of sophomore LaTecia Smith and freshman Kaela Hilaire, who combined not only for 26 points, but also nine assists and eight steals on a day where the Hall's patented transition game ultimately sealed the outcome.

"I thought KK did a good job and TT's playing the best she's played since she's been in this program," said Bozzella of his two primary facilitators. "They're young kids, but they're going to get better."

"We play well together, but we also play well off of each other," Hilaire added, addressing the on-court camaraderie between her teammates. "We all depend on each other and without the bigs today, we filled their spots really well."

Despite Savannah State wresting away a brief lead midway through the opening quarter, each period provided a different takeaway for Seton Hall. From Jackson's eight points to set the offensive tone to the emergence of Hilaire and Smith in the middle quarters, to the defense salting away a win at the end, it was as close to a complete effort as you can get for a team bereft of experience in a game of first impressions.

"I think the effort was good," Bozzella admitted. "Our freshmen get down on themselves because they're used to being successful every second. They've got to learn to be a little less hard on themselves and learn to be more positive. We're getting there. I was happy overall that we stayed to it, we controlled the game for the most part, and we won."

With one game under their belts, Seton Hall heads into a strong test Tuesday evening, taking on Marist for the first time in school history. Although the Pirates and Red Foxes have never faced off, Bozzella is more than acquainted with Marist head coach Brian Giorgis from his time at Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rival Iona, and will be looking for his first career victory against his former adversary in what will be his 29th attempt.

"I think we're going to need to play a little more consistent for 40 minutes," Bozzella said, previewing Tuesday's clash in the Hudson Valley. "We're also going to need to defend better, but hopefully our athleticism and our ability to create turnovers will hurt them. They're very young at the guard spot, they're very young everywhere, so hopefully our defense will be tougher for them to dissect."

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