By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- Chalk it up as a bump in the road. In this case, maybe a pothole is more appropriate.
Following three straight 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Seton Hall limped to the finish line at 12-19 last season.
The immediate past is in the rear view mirror. There are newcomers and a clean slate in South Orange. It was graphically evident, as the Pirates began the 2017-18 campaign in resounding fashion, posting a 91-49 romp over Saint Peter’s at Walsh Gymnasium.
The early going saw most of the initial period play out as a one-possession affair. The last time these teams met two years ago, Seton Hall emerged a 16-point victor. From the start through a good part of the first period on this Friday afternoon, Saint Peter’s was proving a formidable challenge. Seton Hall closed the first period strong, enjoying a 16-10 lead. Separation was provided by defense.
“We started slow,” redshirt senior Taylor Brown said. “We had to pick it up. We started pressuring them more, getting our hands out, and tending to who we had on defense. We have worked a lot on defense the last few days, and it paid off.”
The defense was not just of the half court variety. Seton Hall exerted guard pressure, forcing the visitors into turnovers, the truly destructive type that translate into points as defense converts to run-out offense. Not surprising, the better defense translated into better offense, even in the half court.
Seton Hall attacked from all angles. Brown was active attacking the basket. JaQuan Jackson, a returnee from last season, was effective on the perimeter. Graduate forward Donnaizha Fountain used her six-foot size very well down low.
At halftime, the numbers jumped off the stat sheet. Seton Hall forced 20 turnovers, turning those miscues into a 22-2 edge in points off turnovers. The first 20 minutes saw Saint Peter’s take 40 possessions, which given the turnover number, translated into a 50 percent turnover rate, which is no way to hope to win a game, nor even make a game of it. The second half saw a continuation of what transpired in the opening stanza. The turnovers continued to mount for Saint Peter’s. During the trips when they were able to set up a half court offense, coach Pat Coyle’s club struggled to execute their sets or end a possession with a decent look. By the fourth quarter, the encouraging first few minutes were a distant memory. The Peacocks committed 33 turnovers, an astounding 43 percent rate, with Seton Hall feasting on an astronomical 43-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
“This was a solid start,” head coach Tony Bozzella said in reference to the game as a whole. “I was nervous. We had some new faces out there and we were struggling to get into the flow.”
Bozzella’s concerns were soon eased, as the Pirates turned up the defensive heat. The Seton Hall mentor was also pleased with how his team jelled.
“We have a number of newcomers,” he said. “When you bring new kids in, the ones still here may worry about losing their playing time or roles changing. That’s not the case here, as everyone just wants to do what we need to do to win.”
Bozzella pointed out Jackson scoring her 1,000th point during the game as well, saying, “I’m not sure she knew she was near 1,000. That shows our players concerns are just focused on winning.”
The Pirates shared the wealth with four in double figures. Fountain led the way with 22 points. Brown added 14, while Jackson and Kaela Hilaire added a dozen apiece. Jayla Jones-Pack came off the bench to chip in nine to punctuate an impressive debut for all in Pirate blue, not to mention a significant jump start out of the gate following last year.
“The kids we had last year tried,” Bozzella said. “They could not adjust to our system. We had to bring new faces in, players suited to our system.”
That system, at least defensively, will be predicated on defensive pressure, forcing turnovers and disrupting opposing offenses.
“That,” Bozzella said, “is what we intend to do all season. That is how we will play.”