Another game at Madison Square Garden for the Pirates, and yet another nailbiting victory for the Hall by a score of 67-64. The Gamecocks came in unbeaten and with a rep as yet another uber-tough defensive team for head coach Frank Martin. They lived up to the billing (almost- we'll get to that), and Seton Hall ended up with a victory that most-certainly could matter a bunch come March. The 5 Thoughts from a late night in NYC:
1. Won't Back Down
This game had loads of toughness in it on both sides, but the Pirates were the team that won a lot of the battles that mattered. In addition to the free throw edge (more on that in a sec), a 49-35 positive margin on the glass was enormous for the Hall. In particular, 18 offensive rebounds led to 15 second-chance points and a plus-10 in that category.
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin heaped praise on the Pirates afterwards. "They've got some tough, tough dudes that do not back down," Martin said. "They got us, plain and simple. There's no other way to put it. They beat us to loose balls, they beat us off the dribble. They just beat us on every competitive play imaginable."
Coming from a coach who knows a thing or two about tough basketball, that's a feather in the cap of the Pirates for sure. Offensively, Seton Hall also showed toughness in their never-say-die attitude, scoring just 27 points in the first half on 7-27 shooting and frequently looking flustered by a tough Gamecocks defense but then rallying in the second half. Case in point - Khadeen Carrington, who ended up leading the Hall with 21 points but shot just 5-18 (1-8 in the first half) and had to slog his way to his points.
2. 'Tis The Season
....for giving, I mean, and in basketball terms, that means free throws. Exactly zero people thought Seton Hall's biggest advantage in the game would be at the line coming in, but it was. An 11-12 showing in the first half kept the deficit manageable at halftime, and the Pirates ended up 26-36 at the free throw line (72%, better than their pedestrian season average). Seton Hall was plus-11 from there, and Carrington's 9-10 led the way in this regard. It was nice to see free throw shooting turn into a plus rather than a minus for this team.
This one got down to the wire, and with just a handful of seconds left, the Pirates had the ball. Carrington had the ball put in his hands for most of the big possessions in the game, but Kevin Willard went to Desi Rodriguez, who while not usually the first name on everyone's mind when it comes to game-on-the-line situations was the freshest on the court. He picked up his fourth foul earlier in that half and so he was on the bench for quite some time.
That freshness and a favorable matchup with freshman forward Maik Kotsar enabled Rodriguez to cross over Kotsar and get to the basket for the winning score. Desi finished with 16 points in the contest.
4. Unsung Heros
In this game, you had Carrington scoring 21 points, Rodriguez in double figures, and Angel Delgado getting his pretty-much-automatic-at-this-
point double-double of 13 points and 12 boards, but Ish Sanogo and Myles Powell were enormous in this game. For Powell, he had 11 points, three steals and seven pretty big rebounds, including his last one when he was able to snag PJ Dozier's missed three with just 0.4 seconds remaining. While he was just 1-6 from downtown in the game, the freshman was involved on both ends of the court, speaking to his overall maturity. An underrated performance that really helped Seton Hall win this game.
As for Sanogo, he may be the MVP of this game in a lot of folks' eyes. He yanked down 12 rebounds, but that's not all he did. With the aforementioned Dozier killing the Pirates (he finished with 20 points), with about nine minutes left, Willard switched Sanogo on to the 6'6" guard and Sanogo pretty much shut Dozier down. This of course is no surprise to Pirate fans- it's what he does regularly to all different sorts of players. Guards, forwards, short, tall... it doesn't really matter. Without him shutting down South Carolina's chief source of scoring, Seton Hall likely comes out on the short end of the stick.
5. Garden Party
The Pirates have now won five straight games at The World's Most-Famous Arena, and all of the five (last year vs St. John's, the three wins in the Big East Tournament and Monday night) have been super-close, hard-fought games. I remember Willard's predecessor complaining that the Red Storm would never schedule home games with the Pirates at the Garden, and then the crowd being less-than-stellar the first time St. John's relented in that way a few years back.
But I always felt that if the conditions were right (starting with a great team), the Pirates could make MSG their own. The Pirate fans showed tremendous pride, getting into it and making a heck of a lot of noise. There's just something about the place when college basketball in in the house, and when a team from the NYC area has success there, it really feels special. St. John's may still call it home officially, but the Pirates (and their energized fans) have shown they can turn it into their place, too.