Saturday, June 30, 2018

5 Thoughts: Hall In takes down Jack Attack in TBT debut

Jeremy Hazell posted 18 points and 11 rebounds as Hall In, Seton Hall's alumni team in The Basketball Tournament, was victorious in its opening game. (Photo by NJ.com)

Two separate sets of emotions were evoked watching Hall In -- the Seton Hall alumni team entry into The Basketball Tournament -- Saturday afternoon.

First, the die-hard Pirate fan had a chance to relive the halcyon days of the late 2000s, when the core of Jeremy Hazell, Paul Gause, and Jeff Robinson were central figures in South Orange as Seton Hall attempted to climb into the upper echelon of a perennially strong 16-team Big East Conference. Secondly, it afforded some of the younger members of The Hall's fan base to finally see some of its past -- now years deep into professional careers -- show off some of the skills that they honed to perfection in the blue and white. As an added bonus, the infusion of non-Seton Hall talent to the roster served to provide a dose of intrigue in Hall In's matchup against Jack Attack, the alumni team of Georgetown University, in Saturday's Big East pod contest from the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.

After a hotly-contested opening quarter, Hall In's balance and ability to take advantage of Jack Attack's shooting woes slowly took over, as the Seton Hall alums recorded an 88-77 victory to advance to the final of the exclusive in-conference bracket, where Golden Eagles Alumni -- an alumni team from Marquette -- will await on Sunday, with the winner of that game earning a trip to Brooklyn for Northeast regional action the third weekend of July.

Before we do it again tomorrow, we wrap the preceding game just like we would any other Seton Hall contest, because after all, what is a Pirate game without our five thoughts? Here is an early summer summarization of the on-court proceedings:

1) Long live Gonzoball.
In Hazell and Gause -- and also Robinson, who transferred from Memphis during the 2008-09 season -- Hall In had three noticeable connections to former head coach Bobby Gonzalez, whose four years at the helm in South Orange were marked by incremental upward mobility each season before his departure in 2010. Jamel Jackson, whose 40-point bonanza and 12 three-pointers in the Pirates' 134-107 explosion against VMI in 2009, is also a member of the roster, and came off the bench to see eight minutes of action that also saw him knock down a triple late in the fourth quarter. John Garcia and Keon Lawrence -- both of whom were also Gonzo recruits and players during their Hall tenure -- were listed on the roster, but neither one was available Saturday.

Regardless, the press-and-run style that was a trademark of the Gonzalez era was on full display Saturday, as Hall in used its athleticism to gradually wear down its Jack Attack opponent, scoring commanding 50-35 and 58-34 margins on the glass and in the paint, respectively. Hall In also enjoyed a 22-14 lead in second chance points, crashing the boards with 17 of their 50 rebounds coming on the offensive end.

2) Hazell range.
Long before the nation fell in love with Jimmer Fredette and his marksmanship, there was Hazell and his uncanny knack for getting long triples to go from seemingly anywhere on the floor, and that includes the infamous 70-footer against St. John's in 2008 that was nullified due to an inadvertent Gonzalez timeout. On this day, the third-leading scorer in Pirates history got off to yet another scorching start, draining a triple off a curl from nearly 30 feet as part of a beginning that saw him amass 12 points on just six shots. The program legend took on more of a defensive role as the game went on, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds, and also posting a team-high four steals.

"Definitely," Hazell told the Big East Digital Network's John Fanta when asked if it felt like old times. "I was lights out. My teammates got me the ball in the right position, and I made shots. It just felt good to be back on the court. I haven't played in a while, and I know the fans and everybody wanted to see me play in this Hall jersey again, so it was definitely fun."

"It felt good to get out here and play with a couple of my old teammates," he added. "We played a tough Georgetown team, but we came out strong and got the win."

3) The bulldog mentality lives on.
For those who never got a chance to see Gause during his Seton Hall career, let us surmise his efforts by calling him the heart and soul of the Pirates, particularly on the defensive end as his pursuit of the school's all-time steals record carried on deep into his senior year. Actually, all that -- not to mention his recovery from a torn ACL -- does not do his relentless mentality full justice. Gause looked as though he was still wearing No. 22 (he actually was) in the blue and white during his prime, displaying his hustle at both ends of the floor, whether it involved going the full 94 feet to track down a loose ball in the first half or slashing his way to the basket against a significantly larger Jack Attack front line. Gause -- in typical Gause fashion -- provided the game-winning basket with a drive through the lane against former all-Big East guard Austin Freeman and seven-footer Bradley Hayes before finishing for a layup that gave him the last of his 11 points, a figure that was supplemented with six rebounds and a subtly efficient 5-of-8 shooting clip.

"I always believed I was 6-foot-7," Gause said of his toughness. "If you know me and Seton Hall basketball, you know how I play. They know my mentality, and nothing changed. I do whatever I need to do for the team to win, and the other guys did what they needed to do, too. When you've got people that are going to play hard and get it done, the results speak for themselves."

"You couldn't tell me I'd put on another Seton Hall jersey again after I graduated," he elaborated, citing his emotional farewell in 2009. "And once I got to put this jersey on again, that in itself is enough for me. It gets the blood flowing again. I haven't played in two years, I'm working my way back into it, and this is a great test for me, both physically and competitively."

4) The new guys.
Despite the nostalgia Hazell and Gause conjured up, Hall In's biggest contributions came from the two non-Pirates on the court. Quenton DeCosey, the former standout at St. Joseph's in Metuchen who spurned Kevin Willard's recruiting efforts to sign with Temple, offered the biggest lift with a game-high 22 points and 13 rebounds. DeCosey grew stronger as the game went on, becoming a mismatch in the lane by going 10-for-14 from the floor and demonstrating his passing skills at will, dishing out a team-best five assists from the wing position. Joel Wright, a 6-foot-7 forward by way of Duquesne and Texas State, contributed to the cause with 17 points and seven rebounds, reaching his offensive output on a 7-for-13 display from the floor.

5) The Elam Ending
The newly-implemented procedure to end all games during The Basketball Tournament -- and one that was enacted initially last season -- involves the game clock being shut off after the first dead ball following the four-minute media timeout. At that juncture, seven points are added to the leading team's score, thereby creating a target score that would end the game once reached by either side. In this game, 87 was the objective after Hall In called a timeout with 3:56 to play in what was then an 80-70 lead, triggering the new closing format. Jack Attack responded with four straight points to draw within six, but it was as close as they would get before DeCosey got the Hall In margin back to double digits. On two separate occasions, Hazell had a look at a game-ending three, yet rimmed out both times as Jack Attack managed to cling to life for an extra possession or two before Gause's layup sent the Hoya alumni home and advanced Hall In on the tournament bracket.

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