Wednesday, February 7, 2018

JP's 4 Thoughts: Seton Hall's ship runs aground in home loss to Marquette

Markus Howard's 32 points led all scorers as Marquette completed season sweep of Seton Hall with 88-85 road win over Pirates. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, NJ -- Oof.

Coming back home after a road loss at Villanova in which Seton Hall hung with the top-ranked Wildcats for a majority of the game (a team that lost to St. John’s at home Wednesday night), the Pirates were out for revenge from one of their worst losses of the year, an 84-64 drubbing at the hands of Marquette on the road in early January.

Unfortunately, tonight's 88-85 defeat, despite the close final score, trumps that game and takes its place as the Pirates’ worst defeat of the season for a variety of reasons, dropping the Pirates to 6-5 in the Big East after a 4-1 start.

Here are the four thoughts:

1. Expensive Throws

Of all the issues with the Pirates in this game, this one was the most glaring: A 20-for-33 showing from the free throw line. While the Hall has rarely been world-beaters at the charity stripe the last few years, the 13 missed freebies are a season-worst for them in a year in which they have had double-digit misses six times.

“The tough thing is, we’ve been shooting somewhat decently, but we missed some big ones tonight,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “It’s something we work on and (something) we’re practicing, but it becomes more of a mental thing when we miss a couple.”

Before Pirate fans jump on that comment, Willard has a point. In the previous four games, the Pirates went a combined 41-for-59 (or about 70 percent, which is solid), and that’s after hitting only 7-for-14 in the loss to Villanova. And the Hall has had their moments from the line this year, most notably going 18-for-22 in their win at DePaul and 25-for-32 in their road win against Butler.

But it’s the number-one thought for a reason. If the Pirates made their shots at the free throw line, they likely win this one by a possession or two.

2. Juuuuuuust A Bit Outside

The other thing that stood out for me tonight? Missed shots, but particularly the misses that just refused to go down no matter how close they came to doing so. There were layups, there were jumpers, runners, three-pointers. Seton Hall shot a very respectable 43 percent tonight, but of their 36 misses, I’d wager at least one-third of them were near-makes.

Another story of the game was how Marquette hit everything they tossed at the rim for three-quarters of the game (shooting an absurd 60 percent in the first half and keeping that percentage up until mid-second half), even some that were contested well, and the Pirates at times just couldn’t get the ball to fall through the rim. But, of course, such is basketball sometimes. What the Pirates could control, and failed to do, was…

3. Defense and Rebounding

You look at Marquette’s numbers coming in, and between their big three of Markus Howard, Andrew Rowsey and Sam Hauser, their totals and percentages are amazing, almost video-game-like. And Seton Hall had no answer for them, particularly from behind the three-point line. Howard finished with 32 points and missed just four shots all night long from anywhere (free throw line included). Hauser had 16 points and nailed four threes. Rowsey struggled overall (4-for-15) but was a sharp 3-for-6 from deep as well, ending up with 15 points himself.

“The biggest thing is you can’t let all three of them get going,” Willard said of defending the trio of sharpshooters. “When Hauser goes 4-for-6 (from three) and Howard and Rowsey go 7-for-12, you are going to have a really hard time beating them. I thought we had a good prep day yesterday. I thought we had a pretty good practice yesterday, but we got scrambling because we got beat off dribble penetration a lot.”

For a team that prides itself on defense, another troubling statistic was the Golden Eagles’ 42-32 edge in rebounding, with Hauser finishing with a double-double thanks to 10 boards and Matt Heldt (8) out-rebounding Angel Delgado (7). They scored 10 second-chance points to the Pirates’ five, which is usually where the Hall makes their bones.

Their defensive leader stepped up and spoke up afterwards.

“I’m going to take the blame for that,” senior forward Ish Sanogo said of the struggles tonight. “Being the defensive guy, I’ve got to come out with better energy. These guys, they follow my lead on defense, and I didn’t bring the right intensity. With a good shooting team like Marquette, if you let them get going, it’s hard to stop them, so I’m taking the blame on that one.”

A fellow senior put it more bluntly.

“Our defense sucked today,” Desi Rodriguez, who led the Hall with 21 points, quipped. “It was definitely not our best effort, one through five, whoever was on the floor. We weren’t able to get out (in transition), because we weren’t rebounding, and play our game. That was the downfall of this game today.”

4. “Where Do We Go? Where Do We Go Now?”

To quote Axl Rose, where do the Pirates go from here, seemingly at a crossroads?

For starters, let’s look at the sobering facts: Four of the next five games are road games for the Pirates: at Georgetown (a must-win no matter what now), at Xavier, a home date with DePaul, then at Providence and at St. John’s. And after that? They close the year with two home games, but against Villanova and Butler (a team that’s always given them trouble). It does not get any easier for the Hall the rest of the way.

The only way for the Pirates to be able to rectify a failure to protect their home floor? Get it back on the road.

“We understand where we are,” Willard said. “This was a tough loss, but we have to go on the road now and fight like we did last year. We did a good job last year of scrapping and fighting our way back and now we have to go on the road and do the same thing.”

For such a senior-laden team, I don’t think anyone -- the team included -- thought they would be in this position. Sanogo was asked postgame about two years ago, when the Pirates, also at a similar point in their season, held a players-only meeting led by then-senior guard Derrick Gordon, after which they turned their season around.

Sanogo’s reply? “I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet.”

That speaks to the seniors’ confidence, sure. Perhaps to their familiarity and trust in each other as well. But as Wednesday night showed, even more is needed to avoid stumbling in the always-tough Big East. Seton Hall will now look to display that very toughness in Washington D.C. against the Hoyas on Saturday.

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