Sunday, December 31, 2017

5 Thoughts, And One: Seton Hall closes 2017 with win over valiant and shorthanded Red Storm

Khadeen Carrington started Seton Hall's scorching three-point shooting display Sunday, making five of Pirates' 13 deep balls to sink St. John's in 2017 finale for both teams. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEWARK, NJ -- A long December, and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass
- Counting Crows, "A Long December"

The final date of any year affords the chance to leave many a lasting impression, no matter your walk of life, whichever road you travel, whatever sights you see along the way. And in the case of Seton Hall and St. John's, each team did just that on December 31, 2017, when the Hudson River rivals locked horns inside the Prudential Center for the first of two meetings with one another this season, and the second Big East contest for both sides after Thursday night's opening encounters.

For the host Pirates, it was a dazzling display of three-point shooting, which began in the opening minutes when Khadeen Carrington fired the first salvo shortly after St. John's had built a 4-0 lead on the strenght of Tariq Owens (19 points, 14 rebounds) exploiting the Seton Hall interior, no easy task considering the All-America potential of Angel Delgado and unrelenting hustle of Michael Nzei alongside the 6-foot-10 Dominican.

From there, Seton Hall (13-2, 2-0 Big East) was off to the races, not stopping until they had made 10 of their 18 attempts from beyond the arc in the opening stanza, taking a 43-33 lead with them into the locker room against the Red Storm, who were searching for a better fate than that which had befallen them Thursday night against Providence in a Carnesecca Arena showdown that started out close before Kyron Cartwright turned the corner of Union and Utopia into his personal playground in a 21-point, 15-assist eruption that was dampened; at least from the red-and-white perspective, by the loss of Shamorie Ponds midway through the second half.

With Ponds unavailable Sunday afternoon, and Marcus LoVett continuing to convalesce from the apparent knee injury that has kept him out all month, the lack of depth forced Chris Mullin to think somewhat outside the box. And in the face of what looked to be a Seton Hall runaway, the Hall of Famer did just that with only seven men available, fighting the Pirates tooth and nail down the stretch before coming up just a hair short in a 75-70 thriller.

By all accounts and given the circumstances, tonight may have been the best game St. John's (10-4, 0-2 Big East) played all year, even if the Red Storm alumnus turned head coach refuses to let moral victories come in the way of his fiery competitive nature.

"I don't feel good about losing, but I think I'm transparent," he said after decompressing for a few minutes from his team's scrappy effort 72 hours removed from the second-half meltdown against Providence. "We played well. We've played bad and lost, and I don't feel good about that either. I think you've gotta be honest on the effort. It still hurts. It sucks, but you've gotta be honest about the effort."

St. John's heads into a hostile road environment Wednesday night against Creighton, while Seton Hall gets the rest of the week to recuperate before flying to Indianapolis to take on an upstart Butler team fresh off their stunning takedown of top-ranked Villanova. Until then, we offer one last set of thoughts for 2017, but instead of the token five, we'll have six from this meeting across the river, broken down into three for the Pirates and three for the Johnnies:

1) A clash in styles, but a similar result.
Coming off an up-and-down game against Creighton Thursday night, the marked difference in defense and grit was evident from the opening tip when St. John's matched up against the Pirates. And unlike the Creighton game, where hot shooting gave way to a veteran-forged will, the Pirates were not able to put their opponent away as easily, with St. John's having an answer for almost every Seton Hall shot until Desi Rodriguez's tough jumper in the lane splashed through the net with 18 seconds left, providing the final margin on the scoreboard.

"It was really different, because St. John's is the type of team that plays hard the whole game," Angel Delgado said after fighting his way to 12 points and 12 rebounds for his 61st career double-double. "That was crazy, because every time I looked back, it was like, seven people. They weren't letting me have fun in the game, so it was kind of tough."

Delgado also added six assists in one of his finer passing displays on the year, weaving his way out of double and triple-teams by finding the open man over the course of the night as Seton Hall attempted to bury St. John's from long range, which leads into our next segue:

2) Bombs away!
The Pirates eventually cooled off from beyond the arc, but the hot hands of Carrington, Rodriguez and Myles Powell ultimately proved to be too much for St. John's to overcome, even if they did threaten to reach the summit on several occasions in the game's latter stages. Head coach Kevin Willard expressed concern for whether or not the torrid beginning would carry over, but with the Red Storm's length and athleticism in the paint making it almost impossible to drive the lane in the early going, Seton Hall was induced into alternative options to score against Chris Mullin's zone defense, which the St. John's coach was not disappointed in.

"Sometimes you just have to give credit to good shooting," he conceded. "When all you're giving up is deep threes, that's not really bad defense. I wasn't all that concerned, and I thought our defense was okay. They were really just hitting a lot of deep shots."

3) The closers picked up another save.
Coincidentally, AC/DC's "Hells Bells," the walkout song that accompanied legendary San Diego Padres fireman Trevor Hoffman to the mound during his career, is the music of choice to blare through the Prudential Center as Seton Hall makes its way through the tunnel and onto the floor, where the guitar riff of Malcolm Young is replaced by the opening notes of the Pirates' fight song, "Onward Setonia." And much like Hoffman did on 601 occasions, the Seton Hall veterans were able to salt away another close duel with valuable possessions after St. John's pulled within one point entering the final 4:43 of regulation.

"I really thought Angel made two huge offensive rebounds, two huge plays," said Willard of Delgado and his being in the right place at the right time. "He's done that his whole career, really gotten timely rebounds, good offensive rebounds. I thought he grabbed some good ones, and Desi made a really good play down the stretch."

1) Going the distance with a ranked team, despite playing shorthanded.
That was the primary takeaway for the Red Storm after it was announced shortly before the game that Ponds would be unavailable, joining LoVett in street clothes on the bench as seven players, six of whom played major minutes, took the 23rd-ranked Pirates to the wire in a game where the mentality was no different than it would have been had the Johnnies had a full complement of players dressed.

"I told our guys that I just wanted them to compete," said Mullin when asked to assess the effort put forth. "That's all I told them. With a different lineup, we were going to have to figure out our offensive and defensive lineups along the way, but I wasn't worried about that. We came out and played hard, didn't get discouraged, and I think that lineup we had is going to pay dividends and confidence in our players once we get a full lineup. I think that's gonna win us games down the line."

"It's the same mentality we always have," Owens echoed. "We're missing two of our better players, and coming out without them was definitely an adjustment. We had to have that next-man-up mentality. Everybody just had to bite down and step up."

2) Simon says, make an impact.
With Ponds and LoVett grabbing most of the headlines in Queens, it gets easy for Justin Simon to be lost in the shuffle despite the game-changing potential he has exhibited in nearly every contest this year. Once again, the Arizona transfer flirted with a triple-double, finishing his night with 15 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and five steals in what essentially amounted to just another night at the office, but one that was magnified given his being thrust into the limelight.

"That's what he's been doing," Mullin said when asked about Simon's all-around play and how he bounced back after an uncharacteristically flat effort against Providence. "We watched the whole game on film the other day. We flushed it out, took accountability, and moved on."

"I thought Simon was phenomenal," Kevin Willard gushed. "I thought he got everybody involved."

3) An update on Ponds and LoVett:
Mullin admitted he had no idea how much more time his starting backcourt would miss, but came to their defense with the following quote:

"I'm no doctor," he said, "but I've been injured a lot." "As soon as they're healthy and can play, they'll play, but until then, they won't. They're young and they've got great careers ahead of them, so we're not going to jeopardize their health for anything."

Monmouth's 0-2 MAAC start prompts Rice to assess Hawks' toughness

After dropping first two games in MAAC play, King Rice admits Monmouth is not at same level of past two seasons as Hawks look to get back on track as league schedule heats up. (Photo by the Asbury Park Press)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- In case anyone needed further proof about how much more parity there is in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, or how Monmouth's adjustment to life without its senior leadership of last year would take time, consider this.

The Hawks, who lost just two games in conference play last season en route to a second straight regular-season MAAC title and subsequent National Invitation Tournament appearance, have matched that number through just two games this year, a 77-64 loss at Saint Peter's Sunday afternoon dropping them to 4-10 on the year and prompting a brutally honest self-assessment from the coach who guided the program to 55 wins since the end of the 2014-15 campaign.

"We're searching right now," head coach King Rice admitted as Monmouth fell victim to a 24-6 Saint Peter's run to start the second half while losing junior guard and all-MAAC selection Micah Seaborn to an ankle injury during the game-changing spurt to start the final stanza. "I've got a group of kids that are feeling a little bit beat up right now. We're probably hanging our heads a little more than we should, but I've been saying it: We're working on getting more together."

"Every one of our games, if you go back and watch, there's a four or five-minute stretch where we lose the game. It's been pretty much every game of the year that we lost. Even Virginia, we're ahead, there's a four-minute stretch where they go up 20 points. This game was 30-30 at halftime. We should have felt good. We come out and their first three shots are three-pointers from their best shooters, the same problem as Quinnipiac. We're still trying to find the effort level that it takes at this level."

Fans and analysts can point to the arduous non-conference schedule the Hawks played this season, taking on nationally-ranked outfits the likes of Seton Hall, Virginia, and Kentucky, and argue that a team losing some of its best weapons in Justin Robinson, Je'lon Hornbeak and Chris Brady was tested too hard too early, but Rice is not one to make excuses as far as that is concerned. Monmouth has shown flashes of being the same caliber of a team it has commanded national attention for recently being, but the process; as it naturally does, has been a trying and thorough one in West Long Branch in a season that reaches a pivotal stretch in the schedule Friday, when the Hawks welcome Manhattan to OceanFirst Bank Center for the first of four contests that also includes the Western New York road trip to Canisius and Niagara before two-time defending champion Iona comes to the Jersey Shore.

"We're just not fighters right now this year," he bluntly stated. "We're not the fighting group. We're the group that likes the nice things, but this group kind of got given the nice things by the last group and right now, there's not enough fight to us to defend, to try to be one of the top teams in this league, and this is a big-boy league. If you don't come for a fight, you're gonna have bad days."

Kevin Willard quote book: St. John's

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

On the Pirates' performance down the stretch:
"I really thought -- obviously, Angel made two huge offensive rebounds, two huge plays. He's done that his whole career -- really gotten timely rebounds, good offensive rebounds. I thought he grabbed some good ones and Desi made a really good play down the stretch."

On the streaky nature of the game:
"It was -- I thought we got in a good rhythm midway through the second half, and then (Tariq) Owens hit that one three that kind of (cut the lead) went from 15 to 12, and then (Marvin) Clark hit another three, we came down, took a quick shot, then he hit another three and then just like that, it went from 15 to nine. I've gotta give St. John's a lot of credit, they really battled. I thought defensively, without the smaller guards, they're really long and tough to score against, they use their length well. I don't think anybody wants to play that way, but it was just kind of one of those games the way it happened."

On the Pirates' shooting performance from deep (10-for-18 in the first half) and why they shot so many three-pointers:
"I would say most times when you don't shoot that well, you're going to lose a game. We got hot from behind the arc early, and whenever that happens, you always get a little worried about, 'does that carry over?' But again, I thought their length, they did a good job protecting the lane. When you have Owens down there, (Kassoum) Yakwe's in there, they're just long and athletic, and I thought they did a good job protecting them."

On concern for the technical fouls the team has been picking up:
"No. I think it's all between players and players, and as long as they're respecting the referees and respecting everything else, I'm okay. Again, we've played four straight local teams, I think. All these guys play against each other all summer long. They all know each other, and they all talk trash to each other. From what I've heard, it's just good, old-fashioned trash talking. My guys have not said anything disrespectful to anybody -- the fans, the refs, anything like that, so as long as they're going at it with the guys, and it's good, clean competition -- I think the refs are doing a good job of calling it when they need to call it and letting stuff go, but especially when you play local teams; which we do, there's always a different edge when you play. It just is. They know each other, they battle against each other."

On winning a game with a different style compared to Thursday's game against Creighton:
"I liked the fact that -- Khadeen's got the flu, Myles Cale sprained his ankle yesterday in practice, Angel had the flu the last couple days, Desi's just getting over it -- I liked the fact that the guys battled through practice yesterday and kind of battled through today. We're all kind of -- there's a bug going around us, we're worn out a little bit, so I think this week will help us kind of get healthy again."

On whether St. John's played harder due to the absence of Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett:
"The biggest thing that you see, and that I was worried about, when we found out Shamorie wasn't playing, I think it's human nature that you kind of relax a little bit, and it's also human nature for the other team to say 'okay, now it's my chance to kind of step up and play a little bit.' I thought (Justin) Simon was phenomenal. I thought he got everybody involved, and again, I think defensively, they're just so much longer at all the positions, and I thought they did a really good job defensively, getting in passing lanes, Tariq Owens. They still have five good players over there that can play, and those guys -- I love the way they battled. I love the way Chris (Mullin) got them to play tonight.

On whether he has seen a team with at least two great shot blockers:
"I saw them last year, yeah. Again, at the Garden, it was a very similar feel to the game at the Garden. They had some really good blocks towards the middle of the first half that kind of changed momentum, I thought they had a couple of blocks in the second half that kind of changed momentum. If Tariq Owens can go 8-for-12 on a nightly basis, that changes the way you have to play them if he shoots the basketball that way. They become extremely hard to guard with Owens doing what he did tonight offensively."

FDU still evolving as conference play opens

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

TEANECK, NJ -- In many respects, they are two different seasons, the non-league portion of the schedule building up to the all-important conference slate. In the realm of a one bid league like the Northeast Conference, one needs no reminder how important conference play is. 

Fairleigh Dickinson's women's basketball program finished its non-conference schedule at 8-3. The conference games opened Friday with a stern test, as FDU was defeated at Rothman Center by defending champion Robert Morris, 77-68. On Sunday, the team regarded as the one to beat in this ten-member conference came to town, as Saint Francis University; fresh off a 89-48 victory at Sacred Heart, provided the second straight stern test for Pete Cinella’s group. It was a test that would see FDU wind up on the short end of, losing 80-56. 

For Saint Francis, there was a definite concern entering this one. FDU, early on, has gotten the attention of the conference. 

“They have played really well in non-conference,” head coach Joe Haigh said before the tip. “They have some good wins, and as a group, are just better with experience. You know the first year or two, you kind of get beat up, but by the third year in, you adjust and mature. That’s just what they have done.”

Haigh went in thinking about the Knights’ ability to hit from three-point range. As a team, they entered the game shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. 

“That is something we want to take away or limit,” Haigh said. Showing their versatility, the Knights went inside the arc on their first two possessions, with senior forward Amina Markovic finishing inside.  

A good start is essential facing opposition such as this. Another vital aspect is not defeating yourself and playing nearly flawless basketball. One can look at the first half, where Saint Francis had a 36-32 lead, and point to the fact the Knights had just five three-point attempts, making two. Of greater note were FDU's 15 turnovers translating into 13 Red Flash points. For a good part of the third period, FDU stayed about ten points down, but the way this was played out made the ten feel like twenty. In the final stanza, it became just that on the scoreboard. Jessica Kovatch of Saint Francis, a NEC preseason all-conference pick, buried four threes to basically end any hopes of a Knight comeback. 

Going through the non-conference portion, Cinella hoped to improve rebounding. 

“We did rebound better,” he said. “We outrebounded Robert Morris on Friday and Saint Francis today (38-32). Both are good rebounding teams.” 

How was the improvement realized? 

“Drills and video,” he said. “We watched a lot of video on technique and watched ourselves not boxing out. We really preached rebounding.” 

Another priority was the cutting down on turnovers. 

“I thought we improved on our turnovers,” Cinella said. “Saint Francis turns you over, so going in, we looked to keeping the turnovers around 15 or less.” On the afternoon, the final number was 27. Saint Francis put those errors to good use, scoring 28 points off the FDU turnovers. 

“Obviously, those numbers are unacceptable,” Cinella said. “We have to go back and figure out ways to cut down those turnovers.”

Conference opponents have a familiarity with each other. In Cinella’s estimation, that doesn’t make anything any easier with nothing being certain. 

“You have different styles with the different teams you face in your conference,” he said. “Naturally, that is something you must be ready for. You constantly adjust.”

Saint Peter's holds serve at home to close out 2017 with win over Monmouth

Nick Griffin's three-pointer to start second half broke 30-all tie and started 24-6 run that vaulted Saint Peter's to victory over Monmouth Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose of Hoops)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- Three days removed from a loss to Fairfield in their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opener, Saint Peter's sought an opportunity to right the ship upon returning home to the Yanitelli Center. The other issue the Peacocks had was Monmouth, their opponent Sunday afternoon, was in a similar predicament after dropping their first conference game Thursday at Quinnipiac.

It was Saint Peter's who restored balance to their ledger, using their trademark defense and a 24-6 run to open the second half to their advantage, completing a wire-to-wire 77-64 victory over the Hawks to head into 2018 on a winning note.

"We're really excited about the win," head coach John Dunne assessed as the Peacocks (7-6, 1-1 MAAC) got 17 points from Nick Griffin and 15 from Nnamdi Enechionyia, plus a 7-of-10 effort from three-point range in the second half to hand Monmouth their second straight loss to open the MAAC slate. "We started making shot early and were playing well, and then they amped up their energy and got us on our heels a little bit. But I liked our guys' focus at halftime, and when we came up, I thought we just played really, really well, moving it, screening it, sharing it, being selfless."

Saint Peter's took the initiative in the opening minutes as well, establishing a 19-6 lead as Monmouth (4-10, 0-2 MAAC) struggled to defend the Peacocks, leading to head coach King Rice switching the Hawks into a four-guard lineup anchored by junior Micah Seaborn. The change in tactics worked, as Seaborn willed the visitors back into the game, scoring the last five points of the opening stanza to knot the score at 30 going into the locker room.

Monmouth kept pace with the Peacocks over the first few minutes of the second half, until Seaborn went down to the floor with 17:02 remaining in the game, clutching his left ankle. He did not return, and exited the locker room in a walking boot after the game. That, coupled with Saint Peter's connecting on each of their first four three-point attempts out of the intermission, spelled the death knell for the two-time reigning MAAC regular season champions as they trailed by double digits for all but 17 seconds after Seaborn's departure.

"It all starts with the senior and the upperclassman leadership," Dunne said of Saint Peter's retooling following the graduation of four seniors from last season's Postseason Tournament championship outfit. "I think they saw the importance of it being in the program for the last two years, what it did for us last year, and what it brought to the table for us. They've been all business. These guys take it seriously, they trust us coaches, and they go out and they just work really hard to execute the game plan. They know what our expectations are and it's getting better and better, so we're very pleased."

Manhattan 61, Fairfield 58: 5 Observations

With senior leadership from upperclassmen such as Zane Waterman, Manhattan was able to rely on veteran guile along with staunch defense to defeat Fairfield in MAAC opener. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- For the first time since the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship season of 2013-14, Manhattan opened league play on a winning note, yielding just 35 percent shooting from the floor and only five three-point field goals to visiting Fairfield Saturday night, walking off the Draddy Gymnasium hardwood with a 61-58 victory over the Stags to improve to 6-7 on the year and 4-0 at home. As the Jaspers turn the page from 2017 into 2018, we offer our obligatory handful of observations from the winning and losing benches as each team moves further along the conference road in the new year:

1) Senior leadership.
Manhattan's veterans accounted for approximately two-thirds of the scoring Saturday night, but what stands out more is that head coach Steve Masiello did not call a timeout at any point in the contest, thanks in large part to his seniors maintaining their awareness on both ends of the floor and the two-way dialogue between media stoppages, something that has always been a critical component of the team dynamic since he took over the program in 2011.

"Our defense won the game, and a big part of that has been these guys' mindset," Masiello emphasized in his postgame press conference. "If you could mic our huddles, it's amazing to hear the dialogue of what our players are talking about. Not our coaches, but the players. That showed tonight."

2) Good looks that just didn't fall?
That seems to be the assessment from the Fairfield end, as head coach Sydney Johnson was not as despondent about his team's shooting woes as one may have predicted.

"I liked the shots we took," he admitted. "I think the tough thing for us is -- and I think for any team -- with their schemes, you don't necessarily know where the shot is going to be. I felt like we got shots that we wanted, but they do a great job with their energy. They contest shots, and I give credit to them that you can't say, 'Hey, you're gonna get this shot every time.' That's certainly not what Steve allows, so you gotta credit them for that."

3) An uncharacteristic slump from distance.
Tyler Nelson, the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year, entered Saturday's contest with a career mark of 14-for-28 in three-point field goal attempts in six career meetings against Manhattan. The senior only connected on three of his twelve attempts in his seventh encounter with the Jaspers, dropping him to just 30 percent from deep on the year, yet his coach remained confident that his star guard would get off the schneid in due time.

"He's the best shooter on our team by far, and it shows up over and over again where he's making shots," Johnson said before admitting he was perplexed as to what the struggles from long range can be attributed to. "Honestly, the last three weeks, I think he's taken really good shots. I think he's holding his follow-through, he's getting his reps in. Tonight, I think it chalks up to you don't necessarily know where every shot's going to be, but our last game out, he shot the ball well. I do know this: He's the best player I've ever coached, and I do think he's going to make a few more shots moving forward."

4) More than meets the eye for Fairfield's defense.
The Stags won their MAAC opener Thursday night conceding just 61 points to Saint Peter's, and gave up the same number Saturday to Manhattan, albeit in a losing effort. Fairfield ranks fifth in the conference in scoring defense, but the advanced metrics are kinder, with Ken Pomeroy ranking their 103.5 defensive efficiency fourth-best in the league, a standing that is on par with their third-most efficient defense a year ago.

"I tell anybody who will listen that I think we're a defensive team," Johnson said. "I think we've got a lot of length, a lot of athleticism, a lot of heart. I don't know what people look at with Fairfield basketball, I don't know what the adjectives are; but for me, I think we are athletic, we're tough, and I think we can be as good defensively as any other team. But we've gotta earn it, we've gotta show it every time out, and for two games, we've been there."

5) Welcome to Riverdale, Ibrahima Diallo.
The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from Rutgers officially joined the roster before Saturday's game after rumors of his arrival made the rounds on social media over the past week. Diallo was on the bench Saturday even though he did not play, but he is immediately available and will have two seasons of eligibility; including this year, remaining as he projects to be an athletic rebounder who can make an impact in Masiello's rotation if given the opportunity. Diallo will wear No. 30 for the Jaspers, and could see action in their next contest Tuesday night at Marist.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jaspers win MAAC opener with gritty defensive effort to sink Fairfield

Pauly Paulicap led Manhattan with 16 points and 10 rebounds as Jaspers locked down Fairfield to win MAAC opener. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Steve Masiello has said on more than one occasion, notably last February after his Manhattan team was defeated by Monmouth in a grind-it-out defensive war, that when a team can win with less than its A-game, it was a sign of something special to come.

How the remainder of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference season will play out remains to be seen, but if Saturday's league opener was any indication, the effort put forth by the Jaspers for 40 minutes resembled a harbinger of future promise.

Led by 16 points and 10 rebounds from Pauly Paulicap, who amassed his first double-double of the season, Manhattan was equally as productive on the defensive end, holding visiting Fairfield to just 35 percent shooting and conceding just five three-point field goals on the night en route to a 61-58 victory over the Stags at Draddy Gymnasium.

"It was a hard-fought league victory, but you don't expect it any other way," a candid Masiello stated after the Jaspers (6-7, 1-0 MAAC) won their opening game of MAAC play for the first time since their 2013-14 conference championship season, and third time in his seven-year tenure. "I thought it was a game where we did all things we were supposed to do from a defensive standpoint."

In a game where neither team led by more than seven points, it was clear from the start that the atmosphere played into Manhattan's hands, even as Fairfield (6-7, 1-1 MAAC) got a career-best game from Jonathan Kasibabu, who posted 14 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort. To the Stags' credit, they were able to outscore Manhattan 22-12 over the final 10:11 of the first half, taking advantage of Tyler Nelson leading the charge en route to a 30-26 halftime lead just two nights removed from a defensive war against Saint Peter's on their home floor in Bridgeport.

Fairfield opened its largest lead of the night less than two minutes out of the intermission, going up by a 34-28 score on a Matija Milin layup. But on the ensuing possession, Paulicap rose to the occasion, securing an offensive rebound off a miss from Aaron Walker and tipping it in to start a 12-0 run that swung the pendulum back in Manhattan's favor, the end result of that stretch being a 40-34 Jasper lead with 14:26 to play in regulation.

"I come in every game looking to do my job, and that's just to protect the rim; and if not, grab rebounds," said Paulicap of his mindset over his first two months at the Division I level. "I don't look to do anything more, I just try to do my job, and that's all defense. Whatever I get offensively is just a plus."

"Pauly reminds me a lot of Rhamel Brown," Rich Williams said, echoing the similarly imposing presence of one of Manhattan's greatest defensive players. "Everything about him: He's selfless, he's the best teammate, the best big man we have in this league in my opinion, without a doubt. He understands his job, and I'm just happy to have him. He's just a great person to be around, on and off the court."

The game was far from over at that juncture, though, as the Stags ripped off an 11-2 spurt that regained the lead three minutes later, a 45-42 edge. But in the next back-and-forth sequence, the Jaspers scored eight of the next ten points to poke their heads in front once more, as Tom Capuano's three-pointer from the right wing with 7:46 on the clock broke a 47-all tie. A layup by Milin pulled Fairfield within one before Manhattan scored six unanswered points to open up a three-possession cushion punctuated by a Calvin Crawford three-pointer with 3:55 to go.

The visitors would not go away quietly, however, as Nelson's triple with 1:39 remaining, the only field goal the Stags would convert from distance in the second half, cut a six-point deficit in half and trimmed the Jasper lead to 57-54. The senior guard and MAAC Preseason Player of the Year would strike again on the next trip down the floor, stripping the ball from Zavier Turner and finishing a layup himself to pull Fairfield within one. Both teams would trade points over the next minute, with Williams making two free throws before Kasibabu's layup in traffic, preceded by two offensive rebounds, made for a one-point game with 16.4 ticks left on the clock.

Leading 59-58, Turner made two free throws after being fouled by Jerome Segura, extending the lead to three as Fairfield needed to travel the length of the floor for the tie after calling its final timeout following Kasibabu's basket. But a three-point attempt by Nelson, which left his hands after the buzzer and would not have counted had it gone in, bounced off the front of the rim to seal the win for Manhattan in a vintage effort from the former two-time defending league champions.

"It's buy-in," said Masiello of the prospects of strong team defense revealing themselves early in the conference season. "It's understanding your defense is going to win you games. We were flat tonight, for whatever reason. We've come off breaks and played well. I didn't think it was our A-game, but again, our defense won the game. It's better than being 0-1."

"I'll keep saying it, I'll take our defense when we defend like this," he added. "It'll get us a lot of victories, despite what everyone else says."

FDU at LIU Brooklyn Photo Gallery

Photos from Fairleigh Dickinson's 82-71 victory at LIU Brooklyn on December 29, 2017:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Seton Hall vs. Creighton Photo Gallery

Photos from Seton Hall's 90-84 win over Creighton on December 28, 2017:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

St. John's drops Big East opener to Providence

Alpha Diallo and Rodney Bullock depart in final seconds of Providence's win at St. John's, with Chris Mullin looking on in background. (Photo by Jason Schott/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

JAMAICA, NY -- Thursday night at Carnesecca Arena felt like a second opening night to the season, as it was the start of Big East Conference play with the 10-2 St. John's Red Storm hosting the 9-4 Providence Friars.
Providence has become a perennial NCAA Tournament team, so if St. John's could pull off the win in front of a sellout crowd of 5,602, it would be quite the statement.

Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way, as Providence poured in 53 points in the second half to pull away late on their way to a 94-72 win. The Friars were led by Kyron Cartwright, who had a double-double with 21 points and an astounding 15 assists. Cartwright shot 8-for-11 from the field, including 5-for-7 from behind the arc, and helped Providence shoot a superb 53 percent from behind the arc, making 16 threes out of 30 attempts. They shot 54.7 percent, or 35-for-64, overall. Jalen Lindsey made six threes to finish with 18 points, part of a 6-for-10 shooting night, with all shots coming from behind the arc.

Rodney Bullock had a big night for the visitors as well, with 20 points on 8-11 from the field, including two threes, four rebounds and four assists; and Alpha Diallo had a double-double with 16 points (6-13 FG, 3-4 threes) and 12 rebounds, with two assists and two steals.

Providence head coach Ed Cooley said of the win, “It was a great night for us. Kyron was as efficient and effective as anyone I’ve ever coached in a game, and that includes my Boston College days. I actually was a fan more than a coach today, because he was the true coach of the team. Everybody rode his energy, his enthusiasm, and we played with a ton of confidence. This is the first time I’ve seen our team play with a little joy, because we’ve been so decimated by injuries. It was a good team win. Obviously, playing on the road in conference play is important to get a win. This game was about Cartwright because he controlled the game from start to finish, and I was a fan more than a coach tonight. It was a good team win."

St. John's head coach Chris Mullin said of the game, “You have to give [Cartwright] and Providence credit because they played a great game. They made three-pointers, moved the ball, got in transition, and basically took us apart in the second half. They dominated us. Now why? That’s hard to say after watching the game live, but you can’t just single out Shamorie (Ponds) because he was going past everyone.”

St. John's got off to a good start, and held a six-point lead, 32-26, on a Ponds layup with 4:14 left in the first half.
At that point, Cooley called a timeout and his team responded with a 9-2 run, as Diallo got a three, followed by two from Lindsey to take a 35-34 lead at the 2:49 mark, and ultimately a 41-40 lead at halftime.

The Red Storm got a pair of baskets to open the second half, and a Tariq Owens layup gave them a 44-43 lead at the 18:26 mark. That would be their last lead of the night.

Providence would soon take over the game, as a Cartwright three capped an 8-2 run that gave them a 58-51 lead at 14:25, followed by a 7-2 lead capped by a Lindsey three that built the lead to ten, 65-55, with 12:21 left. The Friars' lead would balloon to 19, at 76-57, on an 11-0 run capped by Kalif Young at the 7:54 mark. Amar Alibegovic gave the Red Storm one last spark, as he scored four points, and an Owens dunk pulled them within 13, at 80-67, with 4:20 left. But as if on cue, Bullock, Lindsey, and Cartwright drained three in a row from behind the arc, and a Bullock layup to make it 91-72 with 2:18 left. St. John's was led by Marvin Clark II, who had 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-7 on threes, with eight rebounds, but a costly three turnovers as well.

The story after the buzzer, though, was Ponds, who came up limping halfway through the second half and had to depart early with a leg injury. The sophomore had 16 points (7-for-15 FG, 2-for-7 3-pt FG), six assists, four rebounds, and three steals in 31 minutes.

Mullin said of Ponds' injury, “I don’t know. I never saw what happened, but I saw him limping. I asked him and he said that he was really hurting after a layup. Otherwise, I don’t know exactly. I noticed him limping at the start of the second half.”

Mullin said of how the injury to Ponds affected the team’s ability to climb back into the game, “Again, getting back into the game is getting stops and buckets. If you’re not getting stops, then it doesn’t matter what you are doing at the other end. We just couldn’t generate any stops tonight. Offensively, I thought that even though we didn’t score the ball, we were able to get what we wanted for the most part. I don’t think it was anything too complicated there, but they were just scoring at will. That’s what it came down to.”

The St. John's defense let them down in this one after they allowed just 54 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting in their five non-conference home wins.

Mullin said of the overall defensive performance, “It’s something we will look at in detail tomorrow, but in general, they just were living in our paint. It was their main point of attack. Our defense has been solid. We’ve been pretty good on the ball, and very good off the ball. Tonight, we were horrendous on the ball. Cartwright basically got wherever he wanted to go and broke us down from there. It’s something we’ve done well, but we were terrible tonight.”

In contrast to Providence, St. John's had a tough night behind the arc, as they were just 7-for-28 on three-point attempts, 7-of-18 in the first half and 0-for-10 in the second half.

Justin Simon, who finished with six points (3-for-10 FG), five assists, and four rebounds, said of the Red Storm shooting 18 three-pointers in the first half, “They were playing zone, so we were able to get a few good looks from three. I think we did settle a little bit in the first half, and we could have gotten to the rim. They didn’t have too many shot blockers there, and only had one block in the game. We could have got to the rim a little more, but our game plan on offense is to find the open man and make the correct read.”

Mullin said of what was said following the game, “I’m very transparent. I even told them at halftime that [Providence] was too comfortable, and we were just kind of out there participating. When you do that and a team gets hot, it’s tough to stop. It doesn’t matter where you play or who you’re playing, if you give someone space and enough confidence, it’s hard to stop. I told them two things. One, a little self-analysis doesn’t hurt. We will look at it tomorrow. We will look at how good we’ve been, and how different we looked tonight. Then we have to forget about it. Basically, you have to be accountable for it and then put it behind you. The worst things you can do are sulk about it, blame, or feel sorry for yourself. It’s okay. We went out and laid an egg, but we have 17 conference games left. We will make it up along the way if we approach it the right way. That was us out there, and there’s no other way around that. I will take responsibility for not having us prepared to play, we will fix some stuff tomorrow and then go out and play on Sunday. That’s really all you can do. Again, I just want to emphasize how well Providence played. They took advantage of everything and when you are shooting the ball like that, that’s an impressive game they put together.”

On being able to quickly turn around and prepare for Sunday's matchup at Seton Hall, Mullin said, “That’s the most important thing. Even in wins. I say it all the time and people think I’m speaking in clichés, but it’s not a cliché. If you live your life that way, it’s not a cliché. If we had won, we would have been looking at the film tomorrow and moving onto Seton Hall anyway, so that’s what we’ll do. Obviously, when you win you sleep better, food tastes a little better, but being accountable for these things is important for the development of your team. We are not going to win every game, and how you handle it is as important when you lose as when you win. When you win, it kind of takes care of itself, but when you lose, it’s important how you handle the accountability of it and what you do the next time out.”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

5 Thoughts: Seton Hall erases 13-point hole with resounding win over Creighton in Big East opener

Myles Powell exhorts Prudential Center crowd in final moments of Seton Hall's 90-84 victory over Creighton to open Big East play, one in which Pirates trailed by as many as 13 earlier in second half. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEWARK, NJ -- The two-day opening night extravaganza in the Big East Conference already had its share of thrillers to satisfy the rabid appetite of its fan base, with Butler erasing a 20-point deficit to defeat Georgetown in double overtime, followed by Xavier's resilient effort to down Marquette just over an hour later.

Both of those contests were merely appetizers to a main course featuring two ranked teams in Seton Hall and Creighton, who tangled at the Prudential Center in the first of a pair of home games for the 23rd-ranked Pirates to open league play.

Trailing 58-45 less than a minute into the second half, Seton Hall (12-2) did what it does best, playing stronger defense and forcing an astronomically efficient Creighton team into ill-advised jump shots as the final stanza went on, reaching the doorstep with a 17-5 run before seizing control with a 12-3 spurt several minutes later en route to an emphatic 90-84 triumph over the 25th-ranked Bluejays (10-3) in the Pirates' penultimate game of the 2017 calendar year to add a third win against Top 25 competition to an already stellar resume on which a neutral-site victory over Texas Tech and road score at Louisville are attention-grabbing bullet points.

The Pirates continue Big East play with a New Year's Eve soiree against St. John's that tips off at 5 p.m., welcoming the Red Storm to Newark with a potential 2-0 start to Big East play on the horizon. Before the Hudson River clash comes to be, however, we fill in for Jason Guerette with a handful of thoughts on the transpirings Thursday night, and what they could eventually portend for the long-term aspirations in South Orange:

1) "We're not losing this game."
Those were the words of Angel Delgado in the huddle after he fouled out with 3:09 remaining in regulation, a juncture at which Seton Hall trailed 84-83 following a mildly controversial call by official Michael Stephens under the Pirate basket. The 6-foot-10 All-America candidate finished his night with 18 points and 14 rebounds, but made perhaps his greatest impact in rallying the troops for a game-ending 7-0 run that began on a driving Khadeen Carrington layup, a basket which put the Pirates in front for good.

"I told them, 'We're down by one. So what?'" Delgado recounted. "You guys worked for this, so you guys gotta pick it up right now. Let's go. We're not losing this game. These guys did what they were supposed to do. They played hard, and we won the game."

Playing hard is a mere underscoring of the statement the Pirates made, their latest message to the nation in a season that has already seen Seton Hall's quartet of seniors raise their game to levels seldom visited in their three prior seasons. No hyperbole here, this win is one that will resonate for a long time this year, as the unrelenting will and mission of the seniors drove home a game that; although not a must-win, was an important feather in the cap.

"I'm ready for some of those guys to graduate," Creighton head coach Greg McDermott deadpanned. "I might come to their graduation and congratulate them as a matter of fact. They're just really talented. They got down, and we even jumped on them to start the second half, and they didn't panic. They continued to play the way they play. I thought we got away from how we played and maybe tried to do too much at times. We were trying to maybe shoulder too much of the load."

2) Michael, the Archangel.
Over the past two weeks, Michael Nzei has emerged as a glue guy in the Pirate lineup, a role that has also been occupied by his interchangeable front line companion, Ismael Sanogo (more on him later). On Thursday, the Nigerian big man was his understated, unsung hero self yet again, only scoring seven points, but amassing 14 rebounds to match Delgado and provide support down low that is impossible to truly quantify with a tangible value.

"Mike got me," Delgado exclaimed when asked to assess the play of his interior mate. "That was the first thing he said. He said, 'I got you! I got 14 rebounds!' And I was like, 'Yo, I freaking love you, man! You don't even know how much I love you right now!'"

"It's fun to play with Mike," he added. "Mike is a hard worker. He works every single possession. He got me, and I know it was good for him and good for us."

3) Welcome back...
Ismael Sanogo made his return to the floor Thursday night after a one-game suspension for violating team and university rules, an exile that cost him a role in Saturday's win over Manhattan. Head coach Kevin Willard attributed the quick change of heart to a "family decision" largely influenced by Sanogo's senior classmates, a process that Carrington expanded on after the game.

"It was a meeting between myself, Desi and Angel at first, and then we brought it to Coach," he revealed. "We just felt like we started with Ish, so it was a big thing for us to finish with him. We had a conversation with Ish and we told him all the extra stuff needs to stop. He's really focused right now, and of course we're gonna need him down the stretch, so we're excited to see what he gets us."

4) The house stands on 17.
When Desi Rodriguez scores 17 or more points in a game, Seton Hall is now 24-6 lifetime after the swingman dropped 23 against Creighton to pace all players. When prompted to explain the importance of the Bronx native being vital to the offensive production, Delgado offered his trademark candid, yet insightful response.

"I was telling him in the first half, 'You better pick it up,'" he said. "I don't want to see no down face, no nothing. You didn't play good in the first half, so what? We got your back. I told him, 'Go shoot everything, I'll go get you the rebound, I'm gonna put it back.' That's what I do. That's my job. If they shoot 20 shots, I'm gonna get these guys. Keep shooting, I'm gonna get you, I'm gonna put it back in. Don't worry about it."

5) "We're coming."
Delgado offered a bold boast to serve notice to the rest of the conference that the 2016 champions are on a mission, and in the process, provided memorable quotes as only he could.

"We're coming for everybody's head right now," he proclaimed. "That's how we're going. We worked too much for this. We're going crazy every game, I'm telling you right now. We're not giving up. There can be one second and we're down by 10, we're not giving up, not even a second. In this league, you sleep and they eat you. It's like a pit bull trying to chase you every day. This league is no joke, man."

And if the opposition Seton Hall faces is like a pit bull, then what does that make the Pirates? Delgado's answer?

"My team? We're a dinosaur! We eat them back, try to destroy them in one bite!"

Creighton left to pick up pieces following road loss to Seton Hall

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEWARK, NJ -- The non-conference record brought a 10-2 mark with setbacks at the hands of Baylor and Gonzaga, good enough for a No. 25 ranking nationally. 

Creighton had the non-league slate in the rear view mirror, their first Big East contest; against 23rd-ranked Seton Hall at the Prudential Center to open the Bluejays' fifth season in Big East play, was an entirely different animal.

On an evening where the mercury refused to hit 20 degrees outside, the heat was on full blast on the hardwood, with Seton Hall providing a good deal of that in a 90-84 come-from-behind victory, handing Creighton their third loss of the season.

“It was a great college game,” McDermott said following the contest. “I thought their big four (Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Myles Powell and Desi Rodriguez) played well, but their role players also stepped up."

Besides dealing with the Pirates' big four, the Bluejays' biggest task was weathering runs. Creighton would build a lead threatening to open things up, but each time, the Pirates responded.

“I thought our defense did a better job of forcing them to shoot jump shots the second half,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “The first half, they were getting layups on us and that can be kind of deflating.”

Ironically, getting jump shots was fine with McDermott, except they failed to fire. Creighton shot 48 percent from the floor for the game, but were only 5-of-25 from long range. Khyri Thomas, a 15-point per game scorer, came in to the game shooting 50 percent from the field, 41 percent from three. The junior guard finished with 13 points, going 5-of-17 from the floor and just 1-of-7 from deep. 

“We had good shots,” McDermott said. “We didn’t shoot it well. There will be nights you do not shoot well, but for us to shoot like that from long range and still be in the game says a lot.”

Entering the home stretch Creighton was right there. Delgado, again, did what seniors do, especially seniors rebounding with unmatched tenacity. His putback with just under six minutes to go gave the Pirates the lead, then secured a rebound on the next possession. The third time down, he was fouled and made both shots. 

“I thought Toby (Hegner) did a good job playing Delgado and making him work for everything," said McDermott. "When we had to go small, Delgado really hurt us.” 

In the end, though McDermott will study this game, making corrections on what went wrong. The Bluejays enjoyed a 53-42 halftime lead, only to be outscored by 17 in the final 20 minutes. 

“We got our transition game going the first half,” he said. “The second half we couldn’t get out and run, because it’s hard to run taking the ball out of the net.” 

McDermott also questioned his own decision to go to a 1-3-1 zone late. Switching from man to zone threw the Pirates a little off balance. 

“That is something I should have done earlier,” he lamented.

Besides assessing his own club, McDermott was impressed with the Hall. 

“I am ready for some of those kids to graduate,” he quipped. “I think I’ll go to their graduation as a matter of fact. Actually, I was impressed with how they never panicked. We jumped them early in the game and early second half, and they stayed together.” 

Disappointed by having a possible road win slip away, McDermott could only philosophize, noting, “we lost to three top 25 teams this year. That’s what they do they make adjustments and that’s a reason they are ranked.”

Kevin Willard quote book: Creighton

On biggest turning point for Seton Hall:
"I really thought the biggest thing in the second half was I thought we did a little bit better job of just trying to get them to shoot jump shots. They just had too many easy layups in the first half that kind of were deflating -- deflates the crowd, deflates you as a team -- we just wanted to get them to shoot a little bit more jump shots. Even though they're a very good shooting team, you just can't let (Martin) Krampelj just keep dunking the basketball, so I thought we did a better job at least getting them to shoot some jump shots."

On defending Marcus Foster:
"Again, I thought we switched everything that they were doing. I thought, again, we were switching aggressive in the second half, that kind of got him going a little bit more away from the basket. And again, in the first half, we were a little bit stuck in mud and we were letting them get too tight to the three-point line on early entry passes, and they're just too good offensively to let them get in a rhythm, and we really let them get in a rhythm."

On Seton Hall's senior leadership willing them back:
"We never -- we were talking about that in timeouts, talking about that at halftime -- when you play upper level echelon teams that we're playing, you're gonna be up eight, you're gonna be down six. You've just gotta keep doing what we're usually doing. I liked our defensive mentality much better in the second half."

On Michael Nzei's unsung hero performance:
"Yeah, that's the way Mike played the last eight games of the season last year. I think that's the way Mike always plays, to be honest with you. I thought he had an unbelievable pass to Angel for a big assist that kind of really kept us going, so that's the way Mike's played. He always plays that way. He practiced really good over the last couple weeks, and if he makes his free throws, he gets a double-double, which is pretty nice."

On significance of winning Big East opener against a ranked team:
"It's a big win, because you've got to protect your home court best as possible, especially when you know you're going to go there and you're going to play in front of 19,000 people there, where it's a tough place to win. Every home game is extremely important in this league."

On crowd atmosphere:
"The crowd was great. We talked about that before the game at walkthrough that we usually get good crowds for the local teams and the east coast teams -- the Providences, the 'Novas, but to have the west coast teams to get a draw like that was phenomenal."

On Creighton bringing out the best in Seton Hall:
"I think our guys do like to play up and down, and I think their tempo kind of gets you chances to get open court buckets and get a little bit more of a -- you can get in a really good rhythm with them offensively because of how good they are offensively, and I think the last -- I know last year, I think it was pretty much a similar game. It came down to the wire, I think Deeno stole the inbounds pass to make it a six-point game. Our guys like to play up-and-down, so I think their offensive rhythm complements our offensive rhythm."

On Angel Delgado fouling out and Seton Hall's response:
"I think his words in the huddle were very -- he just -- the first thing he said was, 'Maybe now we can stop a pick-and-roll,' and the second thing he said was, 'We're not losing this game. Do what you have to do to win the game,' and I thought he showed great leadership for not being in the game."

On team balance:
"I'm not crazy about my balance in minutes, but I think we've done that most of the year. I think we have four guys averaging double digits, I think that's what makes -- everyone on the floor really kind of benefits from having Myles Powell out there, just because it's such a weapon. You're worried about him all the time, he hits big shots, he's a momentum changer, and I think the rest of those guys enjoy the fact that when he's on the court, it opens up the court."

On Ismael Sanogo and his return from suspension:
"I thought Ish responded great. We made a family decision on the 26th. The seniors called a meeting, they had a meeting with me, they had a meeting with the team, they had another meeting with me, then we had a meeting with Ish, his family and the seniors. The seniors were very adamant about the fact that he started with us, he's a big reason of why we are where we are, and he's a great young man who has just made a couple of bad mistakes, and they wanted him the rest of the way. It was pretty much a -- I call it a family decision, but the seniors showed unbelievable leadership in the fact that it was their decision."

On Jordan Walker's progress since his return:
"I think he's progressing really nice, and again, coming off Christmas break is tough because we took two days off. I think we're all looking forward to having Christmas break, where we can kind of really sharpen up what we need to do defensively and offensively."

On Nzei vs. Sanogo at power forward:
"You can just flip a coin with those two. They both bring -- I don't really think it matters who starts. Our power forward spot's been averaging close to 12 points and 12 rebounds per game. That's pretty darn good, so I think they both complement the team in different ways. Obviously Ish, defensively, off the ball really helps guys, but Mike on the ball has really gotten good and we're doing a lot more switching with Mike, so I think they both -- it's always been our strongest spot for the last two years."

On stressing importance of holding serve at home to open Big East play:
"We're going to have go on the road and win some road games too, so it's one game at a time. I didn't tell them that we have to win this one, because we were 3-6 last year and I didn't think we had to win the next game. That's just the way the schedule was. You've just gotta focus on who you're playing, and that's gotta be your only focus in this league."

On St. John's:
"I'll be honest with you, I have not watched them in a while. I gotta do my homework tonight, so I apologize."