Monday, December 31, 2018

Seton Hall vs. St. John's Photo Gallery

Photos from Seton Hall's 76-74 win over St. John's on December 29, 2018:

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

Bozzella vindicated by Seton Hall's inspired showing in Big East opener

Tony Bozzella addresses media following Seton Hall's win Sunday in Big East opener. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ --  After last season’s loss to Saint Joseph’s in the first round of the WNIT last March, Tony Bozzella frequently described Seton Hall’s season as unacceptable, not only in the Pirates’ 15-16 record, but also for how the team performed -- or failed to perform -- especially in conference play. Bozzella, ever the competitor, fiercely vowed this season would be different.

Entering Big East Conference play at 8-3, Seton Hall put further distance between last year’s struggles in its league opener Sunday, defeating St. John’s, 77-67, at Walsh Gymnasium.

Those looking at the half-empty part of the glass can point out that last season, the Hall began conference play the same way, defeating St.John’s at home. Bozzella sees more than that.

“Maturity,” he said, following the satisfying victory. “We are a more mature team than a year ago. Last season, this is a game we might well have lost.”

St. John’s led by six after one period. With just over eight minutes to go in the first half, the lead was eight points, and coach Joe Tartamella’s group threatened to open it up. The Pirates closed strong, trailing by just one at intermission. The third quarter saw Seton Hall come out equally as determined, taking the lead and building on it, leading by as much as 13 in the final stanza as St.John’s failed to answer with a run of its own.

What was especially pleasing to Bozzella was a 22-10 edge in transition scoring and a 16-5 advantage in second chance points.

“That’s who we are,” he said. “We like to push the ball up the floor and play aggressive.”

Several times after Seton Hall converted a steal into a layup, Bozzella rose off the bench and pumped his fist in the air. The energy shown by this Pirate group was indeed infectious. While Inja Butina led the scorers with 19 points, Nicole Jimenez turned in an impressive performance of her own. The senior guard scored 16 points, but most importantly had four assists against one turnover, and five steals that turned into transition runouts.

Seton Hall will take to the road for its next two conference contests, visiting Butler and Creighton.

“It’s early,” Bozzella said of the dawn of conference play. “But today was important, as you always want to protect your house.”

The result of this opener was the same as last year, a home victory, but that is where the similarity ends.

“At times, this was an ugly game,” Bozzella said. “The two teams were going through the process of feeling each other out. The important thing is we were able to find a way to win. That’s validation.”

MAAC Monday: Non-conference review, stat leaders, power rankings

By Jaden Daly (@jadendaly) and Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)

On this last day of 2018, MAAC Monday makes its return for the first time this season, presented once again in its standard three-segment format today and every Monday to follow until the end of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season. Before we go any further, there is a major change noticeable in the byline, as Vincent Simone -- who joined us this offseason following the departure of NYC Buckets from the mid-major landscape to assist on coverage of both the MAAC and Hofstra -- will be a regular contributor this feature moving forward. As a result, the power rankings you see in the last segment will be an average of both his and Jaden Daly's rankings. Before the traditional middle segment of stat leaders, we'll raise the curtain with a review of the non-conference season for each team before league play commences Thursday. Monmouth and Niagara still have one more non-conference game to play, for those of you scoring at home. Each team here is listed in the order in which it was picked in October's preseason poll:

Rider: The Broncs came into the year the consensus favorites in the MAAC after returning nearly everyone from a roster which took home the regular season title a season ago, and they remain a major threat entering league play despite a losing record in the non-conference slate. Four of Rider’s losses have come against teams in the KenPom top 100, including a 90-79 defeat at VCU Sunday night to close out non-conference play. That fact makes the record easier to look out, but the lone head-scratcher loss against KenPom No. 310 Cal State Northridge in the Las Vegas Classic sticks out like a sore thumb. The formidable quartet of Jordan Allen, Dimencio Vaughn, Frederick Scott, and Stevie Jordan has picked up where it left off last season, with all averaging double figures in scoring while Jordan continues to set himself apart as one of the top mid-major point guards, dishing out 4.2 assists per game. Despite another year of experience under Rider's belt, free throws remain an issue, and have actually managed to get worse for this year’s outfit. After connecting at just a 60.8 percent clip from the charity stripe a year ago, that figure has dipped to 59.1 percent for the Broncs this season. - Vincent Simone

Canisius: Isaiah Reese may not be playing like the best player in the conference as we all expected a couple of months ago, but Takal Molson has thus far avoided a sophomore slump and given the Golden Griffins a major boost. Last season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year, Molson has raised his team-leading scoring average to 16.4 points per game, but has thus far struggled from behind the arc, connecting on just 14 of 70 three-point attempts. Reese, meanwhile, has yet to crack the 20-point threshold this season, but his 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game lead the Griffs in each category, and along with his 11.3 points-per-game average, lend testament to the junior’s vast skill set. Under third-year head coach Reggie Witherspoon, Canisius’ trademark has been moving the ball with effectiveness. In each of the last two seasons, the Golden Griffins finished among the top 10 nationally in assist rate according to KenPom. This season, however, they stand 152nd. Shooting struggles have limited Canisius as well, with a paltry 28.6 percent mark on three-pointers and a 46.6 percent effective field goal percentage. - VS

Iona: Three-time defending MAAC champions, the Gaels have labored through an uncharacteristic beginning to the season, entering Thursday's MAAC opener against Monmouth at 2-9 after concluding the non-league slate with a loss to Holy Cross Sunday afternoon in just Iona's second contest on its home floor this year. Having to retool the roster has been more adverse for Tim Cluess this season than in any of his previous eight, with the loss of Roland Griffin in late October proving to be a blow from which the perennial powerhouse has yet to recover. Regardless, its architect sees a rainbow in the midst of the current storm, even if he remains displeased with the current product.

"Non-conference always matters," he said Sunday. "That's the reality of it, and it gives a good point of reference to where you are. And right now, we're not very good. I know it's a rough time for the program right now, but we're going to fight through this and get better. I think there'll be a number of games like this where we're going to have an opportunity. If we're willing to up our energy and effort, and care more about the little things that, right now, we don't care about for 40 minutes, then we'll have a chance in a lot of those games."

The inconsistency of newcomers Isaiah Still and Asante Gist has plagued the Gaels as Cluess searches for ancillary options behind Rickey McGill and E.J. Crawford, but the arrival of junior Tajuan Agee, who posted a double-double Sunday, has ushered in a new glimmer of hope, as Cluess highlighted a bright future for the Chicago native, citing a similar learning curve Griffin had last season en route to a conference championship. - Jaden Daly

Quinnipiac: The Bobcats have put together a decent 5-6 record through the non-conference slate, but when you dig deeper, you will find four of those five victories have come against teams in the 300+ range on KenPom, with the best win coming on the road at Dartmouth, ranked 217th. Fifth-year senior Cameron Young has moved to the forefront of the MAAC Player of the Year discussion, with his team-leading 18.4 points per game ranking second in the league. Quinnipiac was without sophomore point guard Rich Kelly for the first five games as he recovered from an MCL sprain, but he has since returned to average 9.2 points and 4.7 assists per game over the last six contests. Of the newcomers for Baker Dunleavy’s squad, forward Kevin Marfo has been a stout presence inside, pulling down 9.3 rebounds per game. Additionally, Marfo’s offensive and defensive rebounding percentages rank among the top 10 nationally according to KenPom. - VS

Monmouth: Just about everything that could go wrong this season for the Hawks unfortunately has done exactly that, as the 55 wins and national headline-grabbing upsets of high-major giants now seem like halcyon days for a program clearly reeling from the early departure of Micah Seaborn. Ray Salnave has thrived in a larger role for Monmouth this season, leading the team in scoring, assists, and steals, while sophomore Deion Hammond has carved out a solid start to his second campaign as King Rice's second double-figure scorer to date on a team still searching for its first win of the season after getting off to an 0-12 start. The development and emergence of Mustapha Traore has been a welcome sight in West Long Branch as well, but Rice is still counting on some of his other experienced bigs to step in and help shoulder the load down low for a team that could use any type of pick-me-up it can get heading into an ominous league opener Thursday evening against Iona. - JD

Marist: At 5-7, the Red Foxes' record is just one of the many tangible improvements under MAAC veteran -- but Poughkeepsie newcomer -- John Dunne as he prepares for his first conference campaign away from Saint Peter's. Also of key significance is the defense that was largely nonexistent under Dunne's predecessor, Mike Maker. Marist is yielding less than 69 points per game through its first twelve contests this year, a figure that checks in at just over 1.02 points per possession. Dunne will undoubtedly look to lower that number further as the season goes on, but he has to be encouraged with the play of each of his top four scorers (Brian Parker, Ryan Funk, Isaiah Lamb and David Knudsen) along with newcomer Darius Hines, whose early sample size at the point guard spot suggests he could be a potential All-Rookie selection, and perhaps even a stalwart similar to what Dunne had at Saint Peter's in Trevis Wyche. - JD

Fairfield: The pieces are there for Sydney Johnson’s squad, but they have yet to come together in the 2018-19 season. Neftali Alvarez will remain a regular name in the race for MAAC Rookie of the Year honors, while junior college product Landon Taliaferro has quickly developed into the premier perimeter threat in the conference. Alvarez was a heralded recruit for Johnson out of Puerto Rico, and has thus far been the focus of Fairfield’s offense, leading the squad in scoring (13.8 points per game) and assists (3.4 per game) while adding 3.9 rebounds per game to his ledger. However, operating as the primary point guard and scorer, Alvarez has committed 3.3 turnovers per game while making just 56.3 percent of his free throw attempts, and has yet to find his stride from the perimeter, connecting on just 28.6 percent of three-point attempts. Taliaferro's 46.3 percent mark from the perimeter leads the MAAC, and he has given Alvarez terrific support with a 12.7 points-per-game average. Inside the arc, Jonathan Kasibabu has been a force, posting 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds a night, but the Stags lack a true backup for the senior. That lack of depth has already reared its ugly head, with Kasibabu fouling out of three contests and finishing five others with four fouls. - VS

Manhattan: Steve Masiello has been down the road of a rough non-conference start before, so he would be the last person to be fazed by the Jaspers' 2-10 record heading into Thursday's MAAC tipoff against Quinnipiac. However, the biggest problem for the eighth-year mentor and two-time conference champion has been finding a consistent scoring stroke for his burgeoning offense, as Manhattan has eclipsed the 60-point plateau just twice this season, in losses to Stony Brook on December 5 and Albany on December 20. Managing just 54 points per game on average and lacking a double-figure scorer, the Jaspers' exploits with the ball in their hands have been suboptimal to say the least, but with that said, the potential is there. Should Pauly Paulicap and Warren Williams play together for stretches during conference play, Manhattan will have one of the more formidable interior presences in the league to complement the flashes of brilliance from Ebube Ebube and Tyler Reynolds on the perimeter, along with the hard-nosed and underrated point guard play of Bud Mack. A note of caution, though: The rest of the league, especially its bottom tier, seems to be evolving at a faster rate, so Masiello and his group could very well be navigating a slippery slope sooner rather than later. - JD

Niagara: The Purple Eagles have done something no other MAAC team has been able to accomplish over the first half of the season: Post a winning record. Chris Casey’s squad has won five of its last six, and is the lone MAAC team to take down an opponent listed among the KenPom Top 100, that being No. 83 Pittsburgh. The early favorite for MAAC Player of the Year resides in western New York, but he’s wearing purple, not gold. Marvin Prochet failed to garner All-MAAC honors despite leading the league in rebounding last season, so the senior forward has responded by leading the conference in points as well. Prochet’s 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game have paced the Purple Eagles thus far, and given junior guard James Towns the stability down low to take hold of a larger role in the backcourt following the graduations of Matt Scott and Kahlil Dukes. Senior forward Dominic Robb’s return to status as a premier shot blocker has also provided the squad a major boost. Robb’s 3.2 blocks per game is far and away the top mark in the conference, and ranks among the top 10 nationally. - VS

Saint Peter's: Shaheen Holloway promised a different look for the Peacocks than what fans had become accustomed to seeing under John Dunne, and through twelve games, the longtime Seton Hall assistant has not contradicted himself. Saint Peter's is playing at a much faster tempo on the offensive end, but with the uptick in pace has come a defense allowing nearly 76 points per game, a number almost never seen in Jersey City over the past decade. The Peacocks have also been a cardiac outfit through the non-conference season, as evidenced by four overtime games through the first two months, including each of the year's first two contests, one of which was the emotional double-digit comeback against Lafayette in the season opener to give Holloway his first win as head coach. As expected, having a head coach who was a former point guard has done nothing but benefit Davauhnte Turner, whose 17.4 points per game leads Saint Peter's by a wide margin and is among the top averages in the MAAC, but freshmen KC Ndefo and Dallas Watson have quickly made strides to assure that the future is indeed bright. - JD

Siena: Picked last of eleven two months ago, the Saints will be anything but cellar-dwellers. Such has been the impact of Jamion Christian, whose contagious enthusiasm and infectious positive energy has already permeated the Siena locker room. The loss of Khalil Richard for the season may have put the Saints in a hole on paper, but Jalen Pickett moving from the wing to the point guard spot has been an absolute godsend for the prohibitive MAAC Rookie of the Year favorite. The Rochester native's averages of 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game have instantly made him the most impressive rookie in the Capital Region since Kenny Hasbrouck in the mid-2000s, and coupled with the unleashing of Evan Fisher (15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game as a true center, a far cry from the perimeter role he played under Jimmy Patsos), Siena has a pair of gamers to rely on while Kevin Degnan and Sloan Seymour become deceptively strong shooters behind the arc. - JD

Scoring Leaders
1) Marvin Prochet, Niagara (18.8 PPG)
2) Cameron Young, Quinnipiac (18.4)

3) Davauhnte Turner, Saint Peter's (17.4)
4) Takal Molson, Canisius (16.4)
5) E.J. Crawford, Iona (16.1)
6) Evan Fisher, Siena (15.7)
7) Jalen Pickett, Siena (15.1)
8) Brian Parker, Marist (14.7)
9) Jordan Allen, Rider (14.3)
10) Neftali Alvarez, Fairfield (13.8)

Rebounding Leaders
1) Marvin Prochet, Niagara (9.6 RPG)
2) Kevin Marfo, Quinnipiac (9.3)

3) Jonathan Kasibabu, Fairfield (7.3)
4) Evan Fisher, Siena (6.5)
5) Tajuan Agee, Iona (6.4)
6) Dominic Robb, Niagara (6.3)
7) Quinn Taylor, Saint Peter's (5.8)
8) Isaiah Reese, Canisius (5.8)
9) Mustapha Traore, Monmouth (5.6)
10) Kevin Degnan, Siena (5.5)

Assist Leaders
1) Jalen Pickett, Siena (7.0 APG)
2) Rickey McGill, Iona (5.5)
3) James Towns, Niagara (4.7)
4) Stevie Jordan, Rider (4.5)
5) Brian Parker, Marist (3.8)
6) Neftali Alvarez, Fairfield (3.4)
7) Isaiah Reese, Canisius (3.3)
8) Davauhnte Turner, Saint Peter's (3.2)
9) Malik Johnson, Canisius (2.8)
10) Dallas Watson, Saint Peter's (2.7)

Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Dominic Robb, Niagara (.552)
2) Evan Fisher, Siena (.543)
3) Samuel Idowu, Saint Peter's (.523)
4) Mustapha Traore, Monmouth (.514)
5) Warren Williams, Manhattan (.513)
6) Stevie Jordan, Rider (.512)
7) Tajuan Agee, Iona (.505)
8) Jonathan Kasibabu, Fairfield (.500)
9) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (.480)
10) Brian Parker, Marist (.469)

Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Nehemiah Mack, Manhattan (.897)
2) James Towns, Niagara (.826)
3) Davauhnte Turner, Saint Peter's (.818)
4) Takal Molson, Canisius (.800)
5) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.792)
6) Rickey McGill, Iona (.772)
7) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (.763)
T-8) Asante Gist, Iona (.758)
T-8) Malik Johnson, Canisius (.758)
10) Dominic Robb, Niagara (.757)

Three-Point Field Goal Leaders
1) Landon Taliaferro, Fairfield (.463)
2) Andrija Ristanovic, Iona (.462)
T-3) Tajuan Agee, Iona (.429)
T-3) Stevie Jordan, Rider (.429)
T-3) David Knudsen, Marist (.429)
6) Marvin Prochet, Niagara (.424)
7) Kevin Degnan, Siena (.420)
T-8) Isaiah Lamb, Marist (.417)
T-8) Tyler Reynolds, Manhattan (.417)
10) Jordan Allen, Rider (.411)

Steal Leaders
1) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (2.7 SPG)
2) Rickey McGill, Iona (2.2)

3) Jalen Pickett, Siena (2.0)
4) Neftali Alvarez, Fairfield (1.8)
5) Cameron Young, Quinnipiac (1.7)

Blocked Shot Leaders
1) Dominic Robb, Niagara (3.2 BPG)
2) Samuel Idowu, Saint Peter's (1.7)

3) KC Ndefo, Saint Peter's (1.4)
4) Marvin Prochet, Niagara (0.8)
5) Kevin Degnan, Siena (0.8)

Power Rankings
1) Niagara (7-5)
Last Game: Saturday 12/29 vs. Norfolk State (W 83-75)
Next Game: Monday 12/31 vs. Albany, 3:30 p.m.

2) Rider (5-7)
Last Game: Sunday 12/30 at VCU (L 90-79)
Next Game: Thursday 1/3 at Fairfield, 7 p.m.

3) Canisius (3-8)
Last Game: Saturday 12/29 vs. Buffalo (L 87-72)
Next Game: Thursday 1/3 at Marist, 7 p.m.

4) Siena (5-8)
Last Game: Saturday 12/29 vs. Cal Poly (W 75-54)
Next Game: Thursday 1/3 at Saint Peter's, 4 p.m.

5) Iona (2-9)
Last Game: Sunday 12/30 vs. Holy Cross (L 78-71)
Next Game: Thursday 1/3 vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.

6) Marist (5-7)
Last Game: Saturday 12/29 at Hartford (L 65-56)
Next Game: Thursday 1/3 vs. Canisius, 7 p.m.

7) Quinnipiac (5-6)
Last Game: Saturday 12/22 vs. Stony Brook (L 76-73)
Next Game: Thursday 1/3 at Manhattan, 7 p.m.

8) Fairfield (3-9)
Last Game:
 Saturday 12/22 at New Hampshire (W 63-57)

Next Game: Thursday 1/3 vs. Rider, 7 p.m.

9) Saint Peter's (3-9)
Last Game: Saturday 12/29 vs. Hampton (W 83-80, OT)
Next Game: Thursday 1/3 vs. Siena, 4 p.m.

10) Manhattan (2-10)
Last Game:
 Sunday 12/23 at St. Francis Brooklyn (L 72-56)

Next Game: Thursday 1/3 vs. Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.

11) Monmouth (0-12)
Last Game:
 Thursday 12/20 vs. Yale (L 66-58)

Next Game: Monday 12/31 at Penn, 1 p.m.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Second-half stand helps Hofstra past Drexel, extends winning streak to nine

Justin Wright-Foreman's 34 points led Hofstra to ninth straight win Sunday, defeating Drexel. (Photo by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)

HEMPSTEAD, NY -- Hofstra pushed its winning streak to nine and handed head coach Joe Mihalich his 100th victory at the helm of the Pride with an 89-75 thrashing of Drexel. The Pride now enter the new year 2-0 in Colonial Athletic Association play.

After a stellar defensive effort in which it held Delaware to just 26.2 percent shooting in its CAA opener Friday night, Hofstra (12-3, 2-0 CAA) carried that intensity through the weekend. The Pride held Drexel to a paltry 35.7 percent from the field and 1-for-9 from behind the arc in the first half. Coupled with a sizzling offensive outburst, Hofstra took a 20-point lead into intermission. However, what seemed poised to become a repeat performance of their conference opener soon delved into precarious territory, as the Dragons put together a 14-2 run -- including a personal 9-0 spurt for senior Troy Harper -- to whittle the deficit to six with 8:40 remaining.
“We’ve just got to keep playing our game,” senior Justin Wright-Foreman said of that crunch time moment. “Me personally and Desure [Buie] as the leaders of the team, we’ve got to keep everybody together, especially when the lead comes down close. We’ve just got to pull everybody back together, get our heads right and just stay positive.”
Eli Pemberton finally stopped the bleeding with a layup and Wright-Foreman followed with a key triple as the Pride kicked off an 11-0 swing, ballooning the lead back to 18 and lifting Hofstra out of the danger zone.
“You learn something every game,” Mihalich said. “Today the challenge was have a big lead, lose a lot of it, keep your composure and win anyway. It points a lot to our non-conference schedule and the challenges we had there.”
Wright-Foreman continued to bolster his case as one of the best players in the nation with another 30-point effort, his fourth of the season and 15th of his career. Hofstra’s leader capped the night with 34 points, five assists, and five rebounds. Four others joined Wright-Foreman in double figures. Desure Buie notched his second points-assists double-double in three games with 15 points and 10 assists, along with four steals. Pemberton, Jacquil Taylor, and Tareq Coburn each reached double figures with 13, 12, and 11 points, respectively.
Hofstra will resume play next Saturday with a key home contest against Northeastern before hitting the road for the first time in league play later in the week.

Even after loss in Big East opener, Tartamella finds opportunity for Red Storm

Joe Tartamella directs his St. John's team during Big East opener Sunday at Seton Hall. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- He spent every bit of a half-hour speaking to his team, without berating or hollering.

Joe Tartamella simply wanted to go over a few points and remind his St. John’s team what it had to do to achieve consistency, after having just dropped its Big East Conference opener to Seton Hall, 77-67, Sunday afternoon. In many ways, this contest was a microcosm of the Red Storm season to date.

The loss at Seton Hall put the record at 7-5. For the first time this season, St. John’s dropped a second straight game, having previously lost at James Madison on December 21.

“We’ve been trying to find our way,” Tartamella said outside the Red Storm locker room. “We have to improve. Today, we started well out of the gate. The second period, we held our own. Looking at the first half, I was happy with how we played.”

At the break, the Red Storm led, 34-33. The second half proved to be a  completely different story, as St. John’s was outscored 23-14 in the third quarter, ultimately never recovering from that decisive stretch.

“We turned it over and they were able to get a few runouts in transition,” Tartamella reflected. On the afternoon Seton Hall had a 22-10 advantage in fast break points, 10-0 in the ill-fated third period. “We struggled. Looking at that, I was disappointed in how we played. We missed easy shots all day, as well as getting beat in transition.”

Rebounding at times has been a plus. The Red Storm has size with the likes of 6-foot-3 Curteeona Brelove and six-foot Qadashah Hoppie in the starting lineup. The issue, though, is consistency.

“We gave up 22 second chance points at James Madison.’ Tartamella said. “Then we outrebounded both UConn and Florida State.” The Red Storm lost the battle of the boards Sunday to Seton Hall, despite a 15-rebound performance by Kayla Charles.

On a day St.John’s shot just 36 percent from the floor, Tartamella admitted the offense needs improvement, and fast. For St.John’s, there is time to realize that elusive consistency, but not too much time, as the Red Storm hits the road next weekend to face Xavier and Butler before returning home on January 11 to host Providence.

To his credit, Tartamella does not bemoan the fate of opening conference play with three games away from home. Rather, it is an opportunity.

“We started out on the road last season,” he said. A year ago, St.John’s began the conference slate with tough losses at Marquette and DePaul en route to a 9-9 conference finish. “It really isn’t a big deal. League play always has you excited now, if you steal one or two on the road, you’re in that much better shape.”

Taking what many may construe a negative, Tartamella is utilizing the situation in a positive vein.

“On the road you have a chance to refocus. You actually have a better chance of being locked in.”  

And that is what St.John’s is looking to do. For every night, for 40 minutes.

JP's 5 Thoughts: Reynolds gives Seton Hall thrilling comeback win at buzzer over St. John's

Shavar Reynolds is mobbed by teammates after former walk-on's game-winning three-pointer gave Seton Hall an improbable win over St. John's in Pirates' Big East opener. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, NJ -- Well, my goodness.

The Seton Hall Pirates opened up Big East play with undefeated, highly-talented, but relatively untested St. John's late on a Saturday night in Newark, and what took place was an instant classic in which the Pirates came back from 14 down late in the first half to win, 76-74, on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Shavar Reynolds, a name that not many know outside the Pirates' own circle of fans. 

It was an incredible ending that featured a little magic as well as a little controversy, and sent the sellout crowd into the night wondering what in fact it had just witnessed.

Lots to unpack, so let's get going. Here are the 5 Thoughts from Prudential Center:

1. Reynolds Wraps It Up

So, who is Shavar Reynolds?

For those who don't know, he joined the Seton Hall roster as a walk-on last year. His father, an officer in the United States Navy who Shavar rarely got to see growing up due to his deployment, came home to surprise him last season, a moment that was captured on video. Because of his situation, he would not have been able to afford to stay at Seton Hall had it not been for the Pirates awarding him a scholarship this past summer, which the Manchester, New Jersey native earned thanks to his work ethic and positive attitude.

And it was Reynolds who had the biggest athletic moment of his life when he took a pass from Sandro Mamukelashvili with not even two seconds remaining and his team down one point, the third option on the game-deciding inbounds play, and nailed the shot from right in front of the Seton Hall bench to win the game.

"I'm still in shock, to be honest," the sophomore said. "I still don't really realize what just happened."

You can't blame him for being at a general loss for words after a moment like that. But it wasn't just the game-winner, as he finished with eight points off the bench along with three rebounds, and played some pretty great defense on the perimeter to help slow Shamorie Ponds and the St. John's offense down the stretch (more on that in a second). He would have been one of the players of the game in a Seton Hall win even if he didn't hit the game-winner.

"It's been a long journey," Reynolds reflected. "All the hard work, all the hours in the gym, that just proves that it was all worth it."

His teammates and coaches echo his words.

"All his hard work has given me the confidence to put him in the game in that situation," head coach Kevin Willard said. "It's really gratifying. Every high school kid should understand that if you work really hard, have a good attitude, and you're a good person, good things will happen to you. That's Shavar Reynolds."

"Shavar is a kid that works so hard," star junior Myles Powell said. "To see someone like that and his success, I was so happy for him. I told him I could have cried for him. He worked for it."

Stories like this are why we love sports. Nothing was promised to Shavar Reynolds coming onto the team as a walk-on, a role that not a lot of people can handle, let alone thrive in. Being able to then perform against some of the best players and athletes in the country, and being able to hit a shot like he did tonight given all that he has been through? That's something different altogether, a truly great story of success.

2. Controversy

Of course, had it not been for a possible break that the Pirates got at the end, we're not even talking about this ending tonight. Seton Hall had possession in the corner opposite its bench with 3.9 seconds remaining. Quincy McKnight's inbounds pass was deflected by St. John's LJ Figueroa, and it appeared to go out of bounds with 3.5 seconds remaining.

Except it may not have actually gone out of bounds. On replay, the ball popped in the air, and appeared to be saved in bounds by Figueroa. But a whistle from Michael Stephens stopped play, and what the officials ruled was that the clock didn't start when Figueroa initially tipped the inbounds pass.

They went to the monitor, therefore, per a Big East spokesperson, to check how much time was left on the clock (3.1 seconds, as it turned out), and Seton Hall retained possession. Now, this is what all the controversy was about, but I am going to try and shed some light on the moment.

What I can tell you is that according to the rules, the ball isn't ruled out of bounds until it hits something out of bounds, whether that be the floor, or another object/person who is located out of bounds. But, according to what I understand, the first thing that needs to happen is the clock must move if and when the ball is touched, and if that does not happen, any play(s) made after the clock should have started are null and void. Therefore, the clock is reset to the appropriate time, but everything else (including the fact that it was Seton Hall ball) stands as it was before the clock failed to start.

It's certainly one of the most interesting endings I have ever seen, and one that will be talked about for a while.

3. Stops Starting

Before the fateful last three seconds took place, Seton Hall showed a tremendous amount of grit. Trailing by as many as 14 points late in the first half, the Pirates were up against it all night after the Red Storm rolled out to a big start on the road.

No matter what the Pirates did in the first half, St. John's succeeded in turning them over at a much-higher-than-normal rate, and turning those miscues directly into points. Led by Mustapha Heron, who hit four threes in the half, they also nailed their jumpers, playing off of their start in Ponds, who had six assists. 

It was, by all accounts, one of the Red Storm's best halves of the year, and one of Seton Hall's worst. But the Hall never really allowed St. John's to put it away, with the lead vacillating between about 10 and seven points for much of the second stanza. 

The reason for this is that the Pirates couldn't truly lock down the talented Johnnies on defense, struggling all night to get consecutive stops. Down 69-59 with 6:35 left, they finally did, getting a 10-0 run off that tied the game thanks to seven straight defensive stops. Marvin Clark II then hit a three-pointer out of a media timeout, but the Pirates kept on coming, and as it turned out, that would be the last basket that St. John's scored in the game, missing 11 of its last 12 overall as Seton Hall closed the game on a 17-5 extended run.

The hero of the night was asked how they were able to stay in the contest.

"This team has a lot of heart," Reynolds responded. "It's our heart that really determines how we play and how we go. The last six minutes, started playing with that heart and toughness, and that's what got us the W."

4. Jersey Blues

A lot of the older Seton Hall fans will recall that back in the heyday of St. John's basketball and the classic Big East in the 1980s, the Pirates NEVER won in Queens. At what was called Alumni Hall back then, Seton Hall had recorded precisely zero road wins against the Johnnies for 25 years, going just 4-32 against them overall between 1963 and 1988. P.J. Carlesimo's Pirates broke that streak on December 10, 1988, and fast forward nearly ten years, you will find that St. John's beat Seton Hall on the road at the Meadowlands on February 15, 1998.

Since that game, St. John's has won precisely one game in New Jersey, on February 13, 2014 in front of hardly any fans at the Rock due to a big snowstorm hitting the area that day. They have now won 14 of the last 15 home games against the Johnnies. After an ending like tonight, you could understand if some Seton Hall fans are feeling a bit elated that the shoe seems to be on the other foot now.

5. Something Brewing In South Orange

Longtime scribe Andy Katz, formerly of ESPN, tweeted out after the game tonight, "There's something special brewing with this Seton Hall team." And while this is only the beginning of conference play, the nation is starting to take notice. Since a tough pair of home losses to Saint Louis and Louisville early this season, the Pirates now have taken down Kentucky, Maryland, and now previously-unbeaten St. John's, all in close games to improve to 10-3 overall.

The Hall seems to have a knack for coming up clutch, and it's come from not just one player, but from big games by multiple guys. So how does a team come up so big so late, and so often?

"I think the biggest thing is they're really understanding their roles," Willard said. "I think everybody has much more confidence in what they're doing, and I think when you have confidence in your roles, end-of-game situations get a little bit easier because everybody's not guessing 'should I take a shot, should I pass it?'" "They all know what they're doing out there, and I think that makes a big difference."

There's still a bunch of basketball to be played, but one thing is crystal clear: The Pirates are going to be a team to be reckoned with in the Big East. They know who they are, they have confidence in their coaches, they have confidence in their teammates, and they trust each other. That can be a dangerous combination when combined with a little late-game magic.

The Pirates next take their show on the road to Xavier and DePaul in the new year. They return home Wednesday, January 9, to take on Butler at Prudential Center in an 8:30 p.m. tipoff as Big East play kicks into full swing. Be sure to follow along all season here on Daly Dose of Hoops!

St. John's 14-point lead disappears as Reynolds wraps up comeback win for Seton Hall

Shavar Reynolds, a former walk-on, hit biggest shot of his life, a three at buzzer to lift Seton Hall to victory as St. John's saw 14-point lead evaporate in Big East opener for both teams. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEWARK, NJ -- Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together, baby, sometimes you're a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger, baby, sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together, baby, sometimes you're gonna lose it all
- Dire Straits, "The Bug"

And so it is for St. John's as this Saturday night becomes a Sunday morning, the culmination of 2018 beginning with a collapse against Seton Hall after appearing to have the Pirates dead to rights throughout the evening before a controversy-marred final seconds may have cemented Michael Stephens -- a generally highly-regarded official who has received national championship game assignments in three of the past four seasons -- as perhaps the biggest heel in the eyes of the rabid Red Storm fan base following his inadvertent whistle with three seconds remaining in regulation, something later verified and confirmed to be a timing error by a Big East Conference official after the Pirates sent the Red Storm to its first loss of the year, a 76-74 defeat at the hands of sophomore guard Shavar Reynolds, a former walk-on whose three-pointer at the buzzer -- before a second replay review revealed he was fouled, thus adding four-tenths of a second back onto the clock -- served as the final coup de grace for a St. John's team who entered the Prudential Center with Top 25 aspirations in arguably its strongest test of the season.

"The official decided it was a timing error," Big East senior associate commissioner for men's basketball Stu Jackson said in a release delivered by men's basketball media contact John Paquette. "The clock did not start on the initial touch by the St. John's defender on the throw-in."

Draw your own conclusions from the following video (courtesy of Josh Adams, College Hoops Digest) as LJ Figueroa defended the inbounds against Seton Hall point guard Quincy McKnight. It appears that Figueroa deflected the ball into the backcourt for a steal rather than out of bounds, but in light of the timing error, that ended up being a moot point:

Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about how the game unfolded, with St. John's (12-1, 0-1 Big East) punching Seton Hall squarely on its collective jaw with an 11-2 run to start the game, ironically the same margin by which the Pirates (10-3, 1-0 Big East) established seven days ago in an upset win at Maryland to start that game. The Red Storm went up by as many as 14 points, and seemed to answer every Seton Hall rally to keep the game at a comfortable two-to-three-possession margin until the final minutes, when a 10-0 Pirate run punctuated by Sandro Mamukelashvili's game-tying three from the left arc turned a 69-59 St. John's advantage into a 69-all deadlock with 3:30 remaining in regulation.

What went wrong for the visitors, you ask? The crisp ball movement, which has been the driving force in several of St. John's victories this season, went away. The Red Storm had ten assists on its first 14 field goal attempts Saturday night. It finished with just three on its last eleven, something Chris Mullin would later lament.

"It was our ball movement, or lack thereof," he bluntly stated when asked whether or not fatigue may have played a factor in Seton Hall closing the game on a 17-5 spurt. "I thought in the first half, the ball was moving pretty well. I think we had 10, 11 assists at halftime, and we finished with 13, so the ball got stuck. We'll look at it on tape, but watching it from where I was, there were some guys open and we just didn't move the ball like we did in the first half."

To St. John's credit, the Red Storm did recoup a minute later, when Marvin Clark drained a triple out of a media timeout, its last field goal of the game. Seton Hall, however, as was the case throughout the night, would not go away quietly into the New Jersey night, stringing together consecutive stops and consecutive buckets -- the latter coming on a Quincy McKnight jumper and Myles Powell driving layup -- to take a 73-72 lead with a minute to go that was the first cushion the host Pirates enjoyed. The pendulum swung once again when Mustapha Heron connected on both free throws after fouling Myles Cale out with 44 seconds remaining, putting St. John's ahead by a slim 74-73 tally.

At that juncture, the Red Storm had made each of its nine foul shots in the second half, shaking off the pressure at the charity stripe as deftly as it did the numerous questions about its non-conference schedule for the past eight weeks. Then, two missed front ends of one-and-one scenarios -- the first by Heron, the second by Shamorie Ponds -- proved to be just as critical as the alleged timing error that St. John's fans feel they were hosed by, even if the proverbial law of averages may even things out after Ponds' apparent foul against VCU's Marcus Evans last month at Barclays Center was overlooked.

"If you get one, let me know," Mullin quipped after Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press asked if the coach received an explanation for the officiating gaffe. "Even though you don't get fined in college, I'm going to opt to -- I can't believe you don't get fined, so I should say something -- but even though it won't cost me, I'm just going to keep my thoughts to myself on that."

Of the missed foul shots, Mullin did offer an opinion, but would not consider the deflation the end-all, be-all.

"That's part of the game," he conceded. "Free throws, turnovers, moving the ball -- there's a lot of things that happen during the game -- but the fundamentals, they usually come back to the things that help you win or get you beat."

With the page now turned following what was described as "a heck of a shot" by Reynolds, who ended 2018 with the hardwood equivalent of Kirk Gibson's walkoff home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, St. John's now shifts its attention to Tuesday night, when the Red Storm open 2019 by welcoming 18th-ranked Marquette to Carnesecca Arena with a chance to not only right the ship, but make another positive statement as conference play has dawned.

"We're trying to play good basketball and improving basketball, which I think we're doing," Mullin said. "We played a good first half and I kept looking up -- we were still at nine, but we never created any separation -- and then we kind of just let them hang around. They made some big shots, I thought they really just started driving the ball down our gut. That kind of wore on us a little bit. It may be the players, but that's not really had a bearing on making statements or preseason, it's really about the game at hand. That's what I've done my whole career, and that's what I've tried to teach my players. The other stuff doesn't really matter."

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Kevin Willard quote book: St. John's

On Shavar Reynolds and his game-winning three-pointer as a reward for his dedication:
"All his hard work has given me confidence to put him in the game in that kind of situation, and he played really well at Maryland. I thought he gave us a really good spark at Maryland, and at that point, you're thinking it's going to be a drive-and-kick. He's probably our second-best shooter, and I just have -- because he worked so hard and he's in the gym hours and hours and hours -- I had total confidence that he could make the shot."

"It's just really gratifying. Every high school kid should understand that if you work really, really hard and you have a great attitude, and you're a good person, good things are going to happen to you. And that's Shavar Reynolds. He works hard, he's a great person, he's a 4.0 student, and good things are happening to him because of his hard work."

"I wouldn't put him in the game if I didn't think he could help us, and from a defensive standpoint more than anything, he gives us a lot of energy and I always know that when he goes into a game, defensively, he's going to change the game in a good way for us defensively."

On Seton Hall winning its Big East Conference opener in this fashion:
"It's league play, you can definitely tell league play's here. We've played a lot of good teams, and that might be the best team we've played, one through five. They make it so hard on you to defend them, and Shamorie, the way he gets guys involved. The three days off hurt us a little bit, we weren't as sharp as I wanted to be at the start of the game and we had some mistakes early in the game that we hadn't been making for a while, but that's a good basketball team. They're going to win a lot of games in this league."

On the replay review after a timing error may have cost St. John's the win, and his strategy for the last possession:
"No, we just drew it up. I asked Q (Quincy McKnight), 'Did you throw it out of bounds?' And he said, 'No, it got deflected.' We just drew it up, and the big thing was just how much time there was going to be -- 3.5 (seconds) or three. The play was zipper Myles (Powell) up, get Myles the ball and everybody get out of his way, but the second option was if they both jumped on him, to hit Sandro. Q was a cut back door, but I think Sandro was so surprised that he was right in front of the rim, and he made a good kick-out, and Shavar was there and ready, so it's amazing that we executed at the end of the game the way we did."

On Sandro Mamukelashvili and his maturity:
"I think the biggest maturity for Sandro is that he really struggled early on. He wasn't playing well, and then for him to end up with 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists, I think that shows maturity -- I think he sat for a good straight six minutes in the second half -- to get off the bench and then make some big plays, and really play well defensively towards the end of the game."

"He didn't get to shoot a whole lot last year -- I don't think he got to shoot at all -- and so now, what he's trying to get used to more than anything is now that if you take five threes, more than likely, you're going to miss three of them. If you go 2-for-5, you're a 40 percent three-point shooter, and that means you're a pretty good shooter in college. I think it's him just getting used to the fact that it's okay to miss shots. He's not going to come out and -- like, last year, he only got two minutes at a time -- now he's out there for 12 minutes. You're going to miss some shots, you're going to make some mistakes. It's learning that that's okay."

On defending Shamorie Ponds:
"The biggest thing was we wanted to start off the game and not give him threes early in the game, which obviously, we didn't do. I think, to be perfectly honest with you, I just think Quincy McKnight really worked his butt off on guarding him and just made things hard on him. I think that's one thing Q does better than anything. He might not get steals on the ball, but he just really works hard to make guys work over him. I think Shamorie did a really good job in the first half of getting everybody involved, and I think when he had to score, sometimes it's kind of hard to flip that switch back on. I thought Q did a really good job of just staying low, staying down on him and trying to make him work."

On adjustments on the perimeter:
"I think the biggest thing is we went small. We put Jared Rhoden out there, and Jared gave us another wing perimeter that we could actually lock in and put somebody on (LJ) Figueroa that wasn't small, and so we were a little bit bigger on the wing. I thought he gave us really -- he gives us great energy -- and I thought going to Jared defensively kind of really helped us defensively."

On Michael Nzei and his double-double:
"Mike's a fifth-year senior. Mike should have all the confidence in the world, because he's put a lot of hard work in and he's going to be out there. Mike's a guy that's -- he's my safety blanket this year. I know what I'm going to get from Mike, I know he's going to bring it every night -- 14 and 10 -- it's not like he didn't start because he didn't deserve to start, he didn't start because we were going up against a seven-foot, 260-pound guy. People put way too much emphasis on starting. It wasn't 'Mike's not starting because he's not playing well.' Mike didn't start because we couldn't defend a monster, and sometimes you game plan. It's not like his maturity or anything, it's just the fact that he knows every once in a while, you have to game plan."

On whether or not Seton Hall should be ranked next week:
"I'm not worried about that. One win at a time in this league. I can't believe we're playing league games already, December 29. This is the most brutal December I can remember, so one game at a time. I'm not worried about that. I'm proud of the effort these guys are giving, I'm proud of their attitude, and I love their resilience. That's really the only thing I'm worried about."

On Seton Hall's leadership:
"One reason why we were really good last year is because Quincy and Taurean (Thompson) were sitting out, and Ro (Romaro Gill), so our scout team last year -- with three guys who I feel like I could start right now -- and Quincy, the way Quincy defends, his leadership is unbelievable from the way he defends and the way he brings an unbelievable attitude defensively. Again, I think I have the best player in college basketball in Myles Powell, and offensively, he gives us a lot of confidence."

On clutch performances after losses to Saint Louis and Louisville:
"I think they've really grown, and the biggest thing is they're understanding their roles. I think everybody has much more confidence in what they're doing, so I think when you have more confidence in your roles, end-of-game situations get a lot easier because now everyone's not guessing, 'Should I take a shot? Should I pass it?' They all know what they're doing out there, and I think that makes a big difference."

On envisioning a better start to Big East play:
"I told the guys I think this is the best win I've ever had in this building. I go back a long time ago, when Fuquan (Edwin) stole the ball against Villanova late in February (2013) and there was like, a thousand people. We stunk, but we got a big win over Villanova, and I thought that was a huge win at the time, because it helped us the next year. But I think this is, just for the fact that we didn't play all that well and I think we were playing one of the top two teams in the league and we found a way to win, yeah, that's a big win."

Hofstra's resounding statement shows championship potential in historic CAA-opening win

Justin Wright-Foreman's 29 points led Hofstra to eighth straight win as Pride demolished Delaware to open conference play Friday. (Photo by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

HEMPSTEAD, NY -- Joe Mihalich revealed his frequent challenges to his current Hofstra team to eclipse the bar set by his 2015-16 roster, a unit that won the Colonial Athletic Association's regular season championship before losing a heartbreaking postseason title game in overtime, denying the Pride of an opportunity to appear in what would have been its first NCAA Tournament since 2001.

The drought in the nation's most prestigious postseason tournament remains active, but so, too, does Hofstra's volcanic offense and staunch defense, both of which erupted at opportune times Friday night as the Pride recorded its largest margin of victory in CAA play since joining the league on the heels of back-to-back America East Conference crowns, thrashing Delaware by a 91-46 final score that also indicated the worst defeat for the visiting Blue Hens program in its own CAA existence.

"Obviously, you want to raise the level of your play for conference play," Mihalich remarked as Hofstra (11-3) won its eighth straight game by opening the first half on an 18-5 run and never looking back, leading by 30 points at halftime and receiving a copacetic 29 points from leading scorer Justin Wright-Foreman in a systematic demolition of an up-and-coming Delaware squad. "We were playing for first place, and we took care of business here. They all were focused, locked in, hungry, and wanted to show that we're a good team in this league."

Viewed as a co-favorite in the CAA along with reigning champion College of Charleston -- who opens conference play Saturday -- and last year's runner-up, Northeastern, who scored a 10-point victory in its league opener Friday against Drexel, Hofstra fired perhaps the most powerful opening salvo by shooting 53 percent from the floor and connecting on 14 three-point field goals while holding Delaware to a meager 26 percent shooting display.

"Definitely," Wright-Foreman coolly stated when asked if the Pride had made a statement to its CAA brethren.

"Watching him play -- I said it before -- it's like magic," Eli Pemberton, who added 17 points of his own in his return to the rotation after an injury-induced one-game absence, said of Wright-Foreman and his role as Hofstra's catalyst. "I just love it. It's crazy, especially in games like today. I feed off him. This is my partner in crime. He gets everybody going, not just me."

Wright-Foreman, a redshirt freshman behind Juan'ya Green on the aforementioned 2015-16 team, has assumed the role of alpha dog for the Pride this year, and like his predecessor, has CAA Player of the Year honors to corroborate his metamorphosis. Pemberton has stepped into the second guard slot previously occupied by Brian Bernardi, and Tareq Coburn has taken on the swingman duties previously performed by Ameen Tanksley. Collectively, along with primary ball handler Desure Buie, Hofstra has itself a quartet of players who have met the challenge of not only reaching the bar set by its star-crossed group of three years prior, but also surpassing it.

"They're just getting better and better," Mihalich said with regard to the Pride's defense, which has held its opponents under 60 points in three of the past four games to stake a claim as one of the more active units on that side of the basketball in the coach's five-plus years at the helm. "They're reading each other, they have a sense of where the other guy is, and they're enjoying themselves out there, they're communicating and they're feeding off each other. It's fun to watch."

"It just starts off the court," Pemberton added. "Our chemistry's really good, especially playing with guys like that and how close we are, it makes it kind of easy for us to play defense for each other. In years past, it hasn't always been too great, but I feel like this year, this is the closest team I've had."

Therein lies the biggest difference between Hofstra now and three years ago. While the 2015-16 Pride team had overpowering talent that was able to flip the switch between cruise control and needing to ramp up the intensity, this year's group is not only closer, but scrappier and more cognizant of the sum of its whole being greater than the collective parts. Wright-Foreman may drive the bus, but there have already been several team victories in the first two months, with the likes of Coburn and graduate transfer Jacquil Taylor -- who amassed 12 rebounds Friday -- playing equally as integral parts in a machine that is starting to resemble the last great Hofstra hope, especially in its cohesiveness.

"We were close, very close," said Wright-Foreman. "And that's one of the things that me and Desure -- before this season even started -- used to just talk about, and Elijah too, because he's seen it. How close we were off the court is just very important, just being with other and how it helps our confidence, just helps us work together as a collective unit. That was the most important part coming into the season."

"I think the guys will back me up on this: We've been talking about that team a lot," Mihalich said of the resemblance to the 2015-16 season. "I've made references to that team, and I've talked about how good that team was. But I've challenged these guys to be better than them, and I've made references to how that team got knocked off by Stony Brook and Siena in the non-conference (season). We didn't let that happen."