Well, that was interesting.
After falling behind midway through the first half by 10, then giving away an 8-point lead with 12 minutes remaining, a tied game at the under-4 media timeout turned into a wild finish with both teams committing crucial turnovers. Ultimately, however, Seton Hall made the hustle plays necessary to beat Marquette for the third straight time, 69-66, in front of a good New Year's Day crowd at the Rock.
Here are the 5 postgame thoughts:
1. Stranger Things
The way the first half went, I half-expected to see the demogorgon come out of the floor at halfcourt. It was an odd first half, complete with 15-foot jumpers by Angel Delgado, Ish Sanogo AND Mike Nzei, along with no points from Khadeen Carrington on the Pirates' side, and Katin Reinhardt (who came in as a 29% three-point shooter this year) nailing five triples to lead the Golden Eagles in scoring. Plus, there were no free throws shot by either team (which was just fine by the charity-stripe-challenged Pirates- Marquette is over 80% from there as a team). Just a weird first period, and a quick one at that with just seven fouls called.
(An aside on Reinhardt, apparently he has been dealing with a tweaked Achilles tendon all year, so that may explain the struggles from deep for a guy who as fans saw today is a terrific shooter normally. He had been putting up nearly five attempts per game from three, but just hadn't been hitting except in spurts. He was nearly shut down in the second half. Thanks to Marquette reporter Matt Velazquez for the info!)
But that was nothing compared to...
2. Four Minutes of Chaos
Just by looking at the span of two minutes and change following the final media timeout, neither team really, truly deserved to win the game. The Pirates committed five turnovers in the span of six possessions. Marquette missed easy chances to perhaps ice the game, as freshman Markus Howard (who is a 54% three-point shooter in about as many attempts as Reinhardt) flat-out bricked a three with no one even 15 feet from him, Luke Fischer missed an easy dunk attempt, and Haanif Cheatham blew a layup at the rim.
But then Seton Hall got tough. After Madison Jones missed the back end of a 1-and-1 leading to a Reinhardt layup that gave the Golden Eagles their last lead at 66-63, Carrington hit a driving layup and got fouled with 30 seconds left. He missed the free throw, but Sanogo chased down the rebound and was fouled himself, sending him to the line for another 1-and-1.
Sanogo missed the first shot, but in the ensuing scrum, Carrington somehow came up with the ball, hit the layup, AND was fouled again! After missing the free throw, Sanogo deflected the ball away from JaJuan Johnson for a steal. Carrington would hit just one of the ensuing foul shots, leaving the door open for a tying three. But Marquette never got it past halfcourt, as Jones stole the ball from Howard, with the loose ball rolling for enough time that the game was over. An absolutely wild sequence that ranks right up there with any I've seen in my eight years covering the Pirates.
"In the league this year, you're going to be in more games like this than easy games," Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. "We did the little things to gut out a win, and you can't win pretty all the time."
Indeed. This was the definition of "winning ugly" down the stretch.
Marquette is a GOOD offensive team. They came in averaging over 85 points per game with a triple-slash line (to borrow from baseball; FG% / 3P% / FT%) of .494/.405/.814, which is unreal. They had scored less than 75 points exactly once this season (vs Michigan in a loss on a neutral floor) and hadn't scored less than 76 in a win all year
Seton Hall held them to 42% shooting, and if you take away the nine threes made in 24 attempts, their percentage inside the arc was 39%. Willard said they were a tough team to prepare for compared to last year, and the stats don't lie- they have seven players averaging between nine and 14 points per game, and a bunch of great shooters. Holding them to a total in the sixties is no small task. Aside from Reinhardt lighting up the Rock in the first half, the Pirates did a real good job on the defensive end of the floor.
4. Angel Again
I may sound like a broken record bringing up Angel Delgado, but he may be getting even better. A walking double-double at this point, he recorded his eighth game in a row with 10+ points and 10+ rebounds, looking unstoppable for most of the game when Marquette didn't double him en route to a game-high 18 points and 12 boards. But he also had a pair of assists in this one, both beautiful feeds out of double-teams to Nzei underneath for two easy scores.
"I just tell the guys 'keep rolling, keep getting open because I'm gonna pass the ball,'" Delgado said. "If Ish's man comes (to double), and the corner man goes to Ish, then he's wide open. If he stays (on his man), then Ish is wide open."
Delgado gets double-teamed constantly, and while he is a good passer, he still is sometimes prone to throwing the ball away (and did a couple times). But those two assists to Nzei were fantastic looks, emblematic of an improved sense of court vision. If Delgado continues to make good passes to set up his teammates for scores like that, he'll become practically impossible to stop short of foul trouble. A first-team All-Big East player if I ever did see one.
5. Break Time
While Delgado added after the game that "there's really no breaks in the Big East," the Pirates have the closest thing coming up now- a bye week. Their next contest is Saturday vs. DePaul at home, and this break comes at a good time for the Pirates. Several of them have been dealing with the flu in various stages and a six-day layoff is a good thing at this point with all the traveling they did in November and December.
A real necessary win for the Pirates, considering they didn't want to have to climb out of an 0-2 start to conference play. This break is one of only three six-plus day gaps for the rest of the season, so it may do the Hall some good to be able to get healthy and ready for a hellish stretch (going to Marquette, Providence and Villanova back-to-back after the DePaul game).
Happy New Year!