Jared Terrell's go-ahead runner in final seconds was enough for Rhode Island to upset No. 20 Seton Hall in NIT Season Tip-Off. Terrell's 32 points led all scorers. (Photo by the New York Daily News)
BROOKLYN -- Seton Hall came into Thanksgiving Day with the chance to begin two weeks of resume building, taking on a Rhode Island team with Top 25 potential in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center.
Resume building was still talked about after the final buzzer, but mostly in the case of the opposing team, as the Rams clipped the 20th-ranked Pirates, 75-74, on Jared Terrell's runner with 5.2 seconds left. The senior, who led all scorers with 32 points; which he racked up on just 17 shots, was the beneficiary of a backcourt violation whistled against Angel Delgado with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, and his last bucket proved to be the game-winner when Khadeen Carrington was unable to get a shot off at the horn.
With the victory, Rhode Island advances to Friday's championship game, where they will face Virginia, a winner over Vanderbilt in the first game of Thursday's doubleheader. Seton Hall, on the heels of their first loss of the season, is relegated to the consolation game, where they will square off against Bryce Drew's Commodores with a tip time approaching 10 p.m.
Filling in for Jason Guerette on this Thanksgiving night that has now given way to Black Friday, here are our traditional five thoughts as the scene has shifted from feasting to taking advantage of sales, or in the case of the Pirates, salvaging a pivotal stretch of the non-conference schedule:
1) Should Kevin Willard have called a timeout on the final play of the game?
Seton Hall had two timeouts remaining, and the prospect of calling for a reset following Terrell's go-ahead basket was broached in the postgame press conference. Many coaches prefer to let their teams play through adversity, North Carolina's Roy Williams being one of the leading proponents of this school of thought, and Willard appeared to follow a similar script.
"Sometimes when a team hits a shot that goes up one with that much time left, and five seconds is a lot, sometimes when you have a player that you trust in Khadeen, you let him go try to make a play," Willard explained, his confidence in Carrington shining through once again even after his point guard was denied by Rhode Island's Fatts Russell. "The kid Russell made a good play getting his hand on the ball and knocking it loose, but sometimes you've got to let your senior guard go try to make a play towards the end of the game."
The debate over whether Willard should have talked it over will continue to be a raging topic over the next several hours, but one positive should be taken away here, that being the coach's full trust in Carrington being able to deliver with the game on the line. Willard has placed a great amount of faith in his point guards over the years, from Jordan Theodore to Sterling Gibbs to Isaiah Whitehead, and Carrington seems to be the latest in that line. And almost every Pirate fan will agree that despite Thursday's loss being a crushing setback in the short term, it is better to go through this now and learn something about your team before conference play than to experience a loss of this magnitude in the heat of Big East play and risk it snowballing into a downward spiral going into February and March.
2) "We lost this game in the first half."
Willard lamented the 54 points Rhode Island was able to score at the Pirates' expense in the opening stanza, the highest point total yielded since surrendering 50 to Creighton in the first half of Seton Hall's Big East opener last December, and with good reason. Rhode Island torched the nets in the home of the Brooklyn Nets, shooting nearly 61 percent from the floor over the first 20 minutes and connecting on seven of their nine three-point field goal attempts. The Rams cooled off in the second half and were limited after Ismael Sanogo made his customary defensive impact, but by then, the damage had already been done.
"We were really flat defensively, for some reason, in the first half," a morose Willard assessed. "I can't figure it out. For us, I didn't like our defensive intensity whatsoever."
3) Some insight behind Seton Hall's slow starts thus far this season:
Following the Pirates' victory over NJIT last Saturday, Willard attributed the time it took for his team to get in rhythm to the opposing team giving Seton Hall its best shot, something he conceded given the prospect of local teams facing their geographic rivals as the Pirates had also done against the likes of Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth. But after his team could not stop Rhode Island's transition game in the first half, allowing the Rams to dictate the terms of the game from a tempo perspective, Willard offered a different outlook.
"It's something that I'm now going to take a look at," he stated. "I didn't mind the starts we were getting off to, but defensively, we've got to get off to better starts. I'm going to have to try to mix and match a little just to get us off to a better start defensively. It's really not offensively, it's kind of defensively that we're just coming out a little flat."
4) Stopping the backcourt was the biggest key to victory for Rhode Island.
Dan Hurley, coaching against his alma mater for just the second time in his career, reflected on the emotion involved in facing the Pirates (even after Terrell insisted that the coach did not bring it up before the game), but at the end of the day, knew that the sentimental subplot took a back seat to business. Animated throughout the night with his trademark passion and intensity, Hurley's smaller lineup reflected their coach's hard-nosed aggression and drive, a quality assistant coach Tom Moore praised when he referred to the Rams as "junkyard dogs" before the game. With E.C. Matthews and Cyril Langevine both unavailable due to injury, knocking off All-American candidate Angel Delgado seemed like a tall order until Hurley revealed his master plan of neutralizing Carrington, Myles Powell, and Desi Rodriguez.
"We didn't care if Delgado chewed us to death," he admitted after giving up 18 points and 14 rebounds to the 6-foot-10 Haggerty Award winner. "We wanted to keep Carrington, Powell and Rodriguez kind of around 40 points if possible. We felt like if we kept them to 40 points between the three of them, we would win. We didn't do as good a job on Powell. but to hold Carrington to 12 on 12 shots and to hold Desi Rodriguez to 12 points on 13 shots, that was our focal point."
5) Up next for the Pirates:
Seton Hall's first shot at cleaning up the meat of their non-conference slate comes against a 2-3 Vanderbilt team projected to finish 15-16, but the present owner of a 58 KenPom rating. An undefeated Texas Tech team currently 16th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings looms after that in Thursday's Under Armour Reunion at Madison Square Garden, followed by a Top 25 program in Louisville before VCU comes to Newark for the Never Forget Tribute Classic on the Pirates' home floor at the Prudential Center. If Seton Hall can come away with wins in three of those four contests, which is a reasonable expectation, the loss to Rhode Island will be lessened somewhat.