Thursday, November 30, 2017

5 Thoughts: Pirates score Top 25 takedown in statement win over Texas Tech

Myles Powell's seven points in 45 seconds helped turn gritty Seton Hall lead down stretch into convincing win over No. 22 Texas Tech. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEW YORK -- Even after a win over Vanderbilt helped quell the bleeding after an unexpected loss to Rhode Island last week, questions still lingered over Seton Hall as the Pirates made the trek through the Lincoln Tunnel and into Madison Square Garden, where 22nd-ranked Texas Tech beckoned in the second annual Under Armour Reunion, an event in which Seton Hall competed last year, coming away with a valuable resume-padding victory over eventual Final Four participant South Carolina in the process.

Nearly a full calendar year later, the Pirates emerged with a similar result, fighting a gritty battle for most of the night before pulling away in the final minutes to hand the Red Raiders their first loss of the season in an 89-79 decision at the Garden, moving the Pirates to a 6-1 record through seven games with a daunting task ahead of them Sunday afternoon, when Seton Hall embarks upon their first true road trip of the season against a second nationally ranked team in No. 17 Louisville, who enters the battle of former Big East Conference rivals on the heels of a loss to Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

A trip to the KFC Yum! Center is on the horizon for the Pirates, but before that, we are pleased to serve up some pre-flight appetizers in the form of five thoughts from Thursday's affair in midtown Manhattan:

1) The Big Cheese
Head coach Kevin Willard has been effusively complimentary of Myles Powell, as have his teammates, as the sophomore continues to evolve into more than just an ancillary option on a team with realistic aspirations of a deep run into March. A particular and defining stretch of Thursday's game was indicative of just how far the Trenton native has come, with even more on the way.

For 45 seconds in the waning moments of the contest, Powell put the defining stamp on the outcome by first splashing a triple off an Ismael Sanogo feed, then driving inside for a layup and finally getting a steal on the next trip down the floor before finishing with a second layup and drawing a foul. All in all, it was a personal 7-0 run that turned a tight six-point game into a 13-point edge, but the larger turning point in his 19-point night came following Angel Delgado's fourth foul with 7:19 remaining in regulation. At that juncture, Powell increased a six-point lead immediately after the ensuing media timeout, converting an assist from Desi Rodriguez into a three-pointer to extend the Pirate advantage to 73-64.

"Khadeen just kept coming over to me," said Powell of the confidence Khadeen Carrington, the Pirates' senior point guard and Powell's backcourt running mate, had in Powell's ability to take over the game with Delgado in foul trouble. "He tapped me on my head and said, 'I know you got a big shot coming.' I just kept that in my head, and then I think it was a dead ball or something. We came over to the sideline, Coach drew a play up for me and I was like, 'This is my time.' I just stayed level-headed and knocked the shot down."

2) Same Old Ish
Anyone who follows Seton Hall basketball with even the slightest hint of investment knows how valuable Sanogo is on the defensive end of the floor. To some, this may sound like a dead horse is being beaten into the ground, but it simply cannot be overstated enough. Once again, Sanogo stopped several runs after he was reinserted into the game in place of Michael Nzei, and at one point, teaming with Nzei to keep Seton Hall within earshot during a first half in which Texas Tech imposed their will while Delgado took a brief respite.

"Ish brings a lot of energy to the game," Powell reiterated. "When he's doing little stuff like that on the offensive end and the defensive end, it just brings fire to everybody and that's when it sparked us."

3) Home Away From Home
With Thursday's win, Seton Hall's senior class improved to 7-3 inside Madison Square Garden, a venue that they have reestablished as a second home court of sorts in recent years. The Pirates may not necessarily have the same advantage inside the World's Most Famous Arena that former Big East brethren Syracuse and UConn (ironically, the Orange and Huskies will face off in the Jimmy V Classic this Tuesday at MSG) continue to possess, but the support from a fan base within short distance that makes itself known and heard throughout games has only grown in droves since the 2016 Big East championship run.

"It's close to home, we have a lot of fans that come out," Carrington said of the allure of playing at the Garden, where he and his fellow seniors have defeated four ranked teams during their time in South Orange, with Texas Tech being the fourth after Xavier and Villanova in the aforementioned Big East title journey, and South Carolina in last year's Under Armour Reunion. "We have a lot of city guys that are playing in front of their friends and their family, and the building is just electric. It's got a feel to it, so you just want to play your best game while you're here."

4) Driven Desi
CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein referenced a stat that has underscored the maturation of one of Seton Hall's most lethal weapons when he mentioned in the postgame press conference that the Pirates are now 20-6 when Rodriguez scores 17 or more points in a game. When Rothstein expounded on that point, inquiring as to what changes when the senior from the Bronx shifts into a higher gear, it elicited this response from Willard:

"With Desi, I think one of the biggest things that I've seen is he's become a lot more consistent with his effort, with his practice; and when he's passing the ball the way he did early on, I just think it gives us another guy to make plays," the coach said. "He's worked hard, but I think most importantly, he's become a very consistent worker. I think he's just reaping the benefits, a lot like all of these guys. These guys are all workers. They're all talented, but I think the biggest talent that they all have is that they all work. They all put the work in, they all work on their games, and I think Desi's really bought into being a consistent worker. It makes a big difference."

5) A Significant Salvo Fired
Texas Tech came into Thursday's contest with the nation's best defense in terms of points allowed per game, conceding a scant 55.3 points on average before Seton Hall scorched the Red Raiders for 89 points, 50 of which came after halftime on a night where the Pirates shot nearly 51 percent from the floor for the evening and connected on 11 of their 20 three-point field goal attempts. The emphatic response to a disappointing finish in the NIT Season Tip-Off last week at Barclays Center revealed praise from both sides of the bench, and fell in line with both external assessments of Seton Hall as well as the program's own lofty standards.

"(If) they shoot the ball like that with their talent and their coach, they're going to play in the second weekend of the (NCAA) Tournament, minimum," Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard assessed.

"It says a lot," Carrington echoed, basking momentarily in yet another resilient victory. "It says that we never stay down. We took a bad loss to Rhode Island and I don't think we came out strong like we usually do, but we stuck with it. We came hard the next day and beat Vanderbilt, and then we focused all week on this game, and I think we did a great job tonight."

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