Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Rutgers basketball remains strong with commanding win over NJIT

Ron Harper’s 25 points led all scorers as Rutgers overpowered NJIT Tuesday. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The night began amid a much-hyped protest of Rutgers’ football program and its imminent future.

It ended with a convincing reminder that the men’s basketball program at the state university of New Jersey is on steady ground, its bright future yet unchallenged.

As a handful of fans outside the RAC demonstrated their discontent over Greg Schiano’s decision to withdraw his name from consideration for Rutgers’ head football coaching vacancy Tuesday night, the Scarlet Knights were nothing but unified on the hardwood, seizing control over NJIT late in the first half with a 21-4 run en route to a decisive 85-58 victory over the visiting Highlanders.

“Everyone contributed,” head coach Steve Pikiell said of a team effort in which Rutgers (5-1) used a dominant first half from Myles Johnson (17 points, 11 rebounds) and an efficient second stanza from Ron Harper, Jr., who finished with 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting to pull away to the commanding triumph. “I just like the way this team is starting to defend and play together. It was Myles’ night tonight. Every night, somebody different’s chipping in, and I love that.”

“We were able to put them away with our defense today,” Harper added. “After their quick start, we went into the huddle and said that we needed to stick to our principles. That defense helped us put them away.”

After the Scarlet Knights allowed NJIT to connect on six of its first nine shots to begin the game, the stingy and aggressive defense for which Pikiell’s teams have come to be known tightened the screws, clamping down to concede only three field goals for the duration of the opening half and ultimately holding the Highlanders to just 35 percent shooting from the floor while holding Zach Cooks — the nation’s fifth-leading scorer entering Tuesday’s action — to just 10 points on a 3-for-15 effort.

“I didn’t like our detail,” a candid Pikiell reflected of the initial minutes. “I think we pushed it up, we got the ball running up and down, we made some adjustments not to get backdoored. Our guys took the game plan and executed it. We have length, we have some speed. Whenever you can keep throwing bodies at guys — and fresh bodies — I think it makes it difficult.”

With the outcome decided early in the second half, a small group of fans took to chanting for Schiano and criticizing athletic director Pat Hobbs — who was in attendance — for not bringing the beloved former football coach back to the program he turned around in the 2000s. Although Hobbs is in no danger, his highest-profile coaching hire used his postgame press conference for an impassioned defense of his boss.

“Pat Hobbs is, by far, the best I’ve ever worked with,” Pikiell proclaimed. “He’s done so many things in my three years here for Rutgers. I think what people forget about is all the great things, and we’re so into the negative. This stuff needs to stop.”

“This guy’s great and he’s a great person. He’s done a great job, and he’s going to go down as one of the best athletic directors Rutgers has ever had. I hope you print that and quote me on it, and understand the job that he has done in the last four years. I’m honored to be here, and I’m honored to work under a guy like Pat Hobbs. I’ll go to war with him any day of the week.”

Back on the basketball court, Rutgers’ first game since last Wednesday’s win over Stephen F. Austin, who later defeated top-ranked Duke about two hours after the Scarlet Knights walked off the floor, the response heading into a Friday matinee against UMass and the team’s first true road trip — to Pittsburgh and Michigan State — earned positive reviews from the man charged with spearheading the turnaround.

“We’ve got a couple days just to prepare for what’s ahead,” said Pikiell. “We’ve got a quick turnaround here coming up with UMass. Anytime we get some days off, we can put in some new actions, we can do some different things defensively. We had some good practices leading up to this, and I think our guys are locked in.”

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Seton Hall vs. Florida A&M Photo Gallery

Photos from Seton Hall’s 87-51 win over Florida A&M on November 23, 2019:

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

Saturday, November 23, 2019

JP’s 5 Thoughts: Seton Hall overcomes mid-game sloppiness to rout Florida A&M

Jared Rhoden recorded first career double-double Saturday, with 10 points and 12 rebounds as Seton Hall made short work of Florida A&M. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, N.J. — In its last tuneup for a gauntlet of a tournament at the Battle 4 Atlantis this coming week, No. 13 Seton Hall welcomed Florida A&M for a noon tipoff in Newark. And as far as 36-point, blowout wins go, this one was a tad more interesting than most.

Here are the Thoughts from the Pirates' 87-51 romp at the Rock:

1. Sleepwalking

Seton Hall and early tip times at home usually haven't mixed too well, but the start of the game was what you would expect. The Pirates were getting generally good things going offensively, and smothering the undersized Rattlers on the other end.

Then in the last four minutes of the first half, things just started to look off. The Pirates were a little careless with the ball, started missing shots (1 for their last 11 heading into halftime), and the visitors clawed back into the game. This actually spilled over into the second half, too, as the lead was single digits as late as the 13:30 mark. Why the malaise against a lesser opponent, particularly in front of a stellar crowd?

As Allen Iverson once put it, we're talking about practice.

"I don't think we played Seton Hall basketball," said Myles Powell, who finished with a game-high 23 points. "Coach emphasized to us that that's how we practiced (this week),  he just said that (to be) the team that we want to be, we have to practice to get better, not just to get through it. He said that all week we were just trying to get through practice, get it over with, and it showed today."

"This week in practice was kind of 50-50," added sophomore forward Jared Rhoden, who finished with his first career double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. "That's kind of why we came out slow."

But the Pirates eventually did turn it up, and ran away from FAMU, outscoring them 44-16 over the final 16 minutes. And they have their subs to thank.

2. Bench Pressing

The game turned in the second half when the Pirates went to their bench. Rhoden was the star in this regard, as he ended up as the only player on either team in double figures on the glass, finishing with a career-best 12 caroms, including four on the offensive end. It's something he works on in practice (yes, we're still talking about practice).

"In practice, coach puts me at the four a lot," Rhoden says. "He says to run a couple plays, try to get a couple rebounds against the big guys, and that's what I try to do. I've done it in practice so much that when the game comes, it's kind of just easy."

"Jared is slowly getting back to the way he looked before he got hurt in August," head coach Kevin Willard added. "He's getting his bounce back, he's getting above the rim again. He hasn't shot it well, but he's shooting well in practice, so he's getting close to being a guy that's a big-time player for us."

Rhoden wasn't alone. With Sandro Mamukelashvili not playing well (two points, 1-of-6 shooting, three turnovers), freshman big man Tyrese Samuel stepped up. With seven points and six rebounds, he was able to stabilize that position on the floor, and help the Pirates eventually turn it on again in the second half.

Another source of energy was Shavar Reynolds, Jr. He knocked down a couple threes, finished with eight points and five additional rebounds, and played his usual energetic style of defense, something Willard credited as key to boosting the entire team. 

The proof lies in the plus-minus rating. Rhoden was plus-29 in 22 minutes, the best mark on the team, and Reynolds and Samuel were each plus-21 in 19 minutes. The only other Pirate in that realm at the end of the game was Quincy McKnight, who finished second on the team in scoring with 14 points, five assists and one turnover. 

With the schedule the way it is this week in the Battle 4 Atlantis, with potentially three ranked teams in three days over Thanksgiving, the bench will likely be key for the Hall in the coming weeks. Perhaps this performance can solidify such a thing. More on that in a second.

3. Rise and Shine

That's what the Pirate fans did today, as despite the early tip time and the fact that Florida A&M will never be mistaken for Michigan State, the announced crowd was 9,656. The fans continue to respond to this group in a way that they hadn't before, even during the Whitehead-Delgado-Rodriguez-Carrington years. In fact, Willard said that the fans showing up like they did was part of the reason he was "pissed off" that the Pirates didn't play up to the level he expected.

But the tenth-year skipper also said something illuminating about the fan base later in the press conference. When asked about how he creates a family-style atmosphere for the players during the numerous Thanksgiving tournaments he's taken the Pirates to over the years, when the players can't be with their biological families, he said that it's easy to accomplish.

"One of the great things about this job is our fans travel to our Thanksgiving tournaments," Willard said. "I think we bought more tickets than any program in the history of (the Battle 4 Atlantis). Our fans make it special for our guys. The people, the booster club that gets down there, they travel and make our kids feel great. I don't have to do much because our fans do such a great job."

Another feather in the cap for the blue-and-white faithful.

4. Taurean Thompson Sighting

Enigmatic forward Taurean Thompson got his first action of the season today after sitting out the Pirates' first four games due to the now-completed investigation into tampering when he transferred from Syracuse two years ago. All he did was grab four points, one rebound, one assist, a plus-9 rating in just four minutes, and one acrobatic layup in the paint that got the students (and everyone, for that matter) up and cheering.

It remains to be seen what he will contribute to the team this season (you may recall that without him, Seton Hall doesn't upset Kentucky at Madison Square Garden last year) as he can still make some plays that make you scratch your head. Plus, the Pirates' rotation is pretty much set at this point with a bunch of guys with size down low. But he's always got that little bit of extra mustard in his back pocket, too.

5. On To Atlantis

Every single college basketball fan has had this tournament circled on the calendar ever since the field was announced. The 13th-ranked Pirates will take on fellow Top 15 squad Oregon on Wednesday night, then potentially a Top 10 Gonzaga team the following day. On the other side of the bracket, North Carolina (Top 5 as of this writing) and Michigan (receiving votes for the Top 25 poll), along with high-majors Iowa State and Alabama could also potentially await the Pirates.

This is the toughest of all the Thanksgiving tournaments this year, and the toughest the Hall has ever played in. Not to mention that if Seton Hall wins its first game (which tips at 9:30 p.m. or so), the Pirates have to turn around and play at 4:00 on Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps at 2:00 the following afternoon if they also win that contest.

"Our next two weeks are brutal," said Willard. “The three in Atlantis, then come back and play at Iowa State, at Rutgers, then home against Maryland, so it's a big test. It gives us a chance to see where we're at, and if it doesn't go our way, to see where we need to go."

One thing's for sure: Willard won't be accepting a stretch of practice like the Pirates had this past week heading into the glamorous event.

"Coach just finished telling us that we have practice tomorrow, and we're going to get taped and everything," Powell said. "We're going to be going full out tomorrow, and we're definitely going to be ready to get out to the Bahamas. I'm sure you'll see a much different team than the one you saw today."

Kevin Willard quote book: Florida A&M

On difference in second half:
“I just thought we kind of made some shots and got a little momentum going, and were able to kind of get in the press. I thought Shavar Reynolds came in and gave us a really good boost with his energy. We just needed a little positive energy, that’s about it.”

On Sandro Mamukelashvili not playing after halftime, and Jared Rhoden replacing him:
“He wasn’t playing well. He just wasn’t playing well. I thought Jared and Tyrese played really well. Jared’s slowly getting back to the way he looked before he got hurt in August. He’s getting his bounce back, he’s starting to get above the rim again — he still hasn’t shot the ball well, but he’s been shooting it well in practice — so Jared’s getting close. He’s not where he was, but he’s getting close to being a guy that’s a big-time player for us.”

On what to expect from Tyrese Samuel:
“I think Tyrese is getting a little bit more comfortable out there. I’m going to try to get him out there more with Myles, just so he can be a little comfortable out there. He usually comes in when Myles comes out, and it’s a little bit easier playing when Myles is out there than when he’s not, so he continues just to kind of be steady and get better, and do really good things out there.”

On Myles Powell only taking two foul shots:
“He took nine threes, so half his shots were threes, technically. He got to the rim a couple times, but we got in from Saint Louis, who’s pretty big and physical, and obviously Michigan State’s pretty big and physical. He just missed some chippies.”

On Quincy McKnight’s aggressiveness:
“Q should be our second-leading scorer, he really should. With the amount of time he’s out there, he has the ability to be a scorer. He defers a little bit to Myles, which is fine, but at the same time, we need a secondary scorer to step up and be consistent, and he’s done it before. He’s a fifth-year senior, he has the ability to do it. He’s the guy that needs to do it for us.”

On next week’s Battle 4 Atlantis and future NCAA Tournament implications:
“Our next two weeks are brutal — the three (games) in Atlantis, come back and play at Iowa State, at Rutgers, and we’re home against Maryland — it’s a big test, Adam. It gives us a chance to kind of really see where we’re at, and if it doesn’t go our way, to really see where we need to go. It’s a good opportunity no matter what. I think when you lose by two or three to a top three or four team, I think it doesn’t hurt your seeding, it helps your seeding, to be honest with you. The fact that we’re playing these teams — we’re playing true road games — I haven’t seen anyone else go at Saint Louis, or is going to go at Iowa State, at Rutgers, so I think our overall body of work’s going to help our seeding.”

On intensity during practice:
“Oh, there WILL be more intensity in practice. There won’t be an option on that.”

On drawing almost 10,000 fans for a 12 p.m. game against Florida A&M:
“I think that’s why I’m so pissed. We had a great crowd come out for a 12:00 game, and we kind of sleepwalked through 20 minutes of the game. Our kids play hard, they’re fun to watch, but you can’t come out and sleepwalk when people come out and watch it. It’s unacceptable.”

On Battle 4 Atlantis structure and tip times:
“I’ve never seen that before. I don’t think it’s very good for having the elite teams that are in this tournament. I don’t know how you can play a 9:30 game and then come back and play a 4:00 game, it just doesn’t make any sense. I know why it makes sense, I know why it’s done, but it makes it very hard to win, to be honest with you. And as Adam says, you lose a 4:00 game and the NCAA selection committee comes down and just sees a loss, they don’t see the fact that you got done at 1:00 in the morning and you had to turn around and play at 4. So from that standpoint, I think it’s idiotic.”

On what other ranked teams may be saying about Seton Hall:
“I don’t know. I haven’t talked to them.”

On what atmosphere he cultivates during Seton Hall’s Thanksgiving travel:
“I’ll be honest with you: I think one of the great things about this job — and there’s a lot of them, but one of the best things about it — is our fans travel to our Thanksgiving tournaments. That’s why I do it. The one year I didn’t — I think the one year I went to Brooklyn, everybody was like, ‘why aren’t we going somewhere?’ Our fans travel. I think we’ve bought more tickets than any program in the history of the tournament, so our fans make it special for our guys. The people that travel, the booster club that gets down there, they take up all the good hotel rooms, but they travel and they make our kids feel great, so I don’t have to do much because our fans do such a great job of it.”

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Red Storm progression a welcome change of pace as Johnnies improve to 4-1

NEW YORK – Oh, baby, don’t it feel like heaven right now?
Don’t it feel like something from a dream?
Yeah, I’ve never known nothing quite like this. Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again?
– Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “The Waiting”
The desire among St. John’s fans for a cohesive basketball team, one whose collective whole is greater than the sum of its parts, has spent nearly two decades in a cycle of reformation, never quite reaching a finished product.
Mike Jarvis. Norm Roberts. Steve Lavin, Chris Mullin. The names changed, the players did, too. The end result – outside of just four NCAA Tournament appearances since the Clinton administration – has remained the same. Only now does it seem like the latest attempt at reinventing the wheel might be one in which the adhesive thrown at the proverbial wall finally sticks.
When looking at the final score of the Red Storm’s 82-63 victory Wednesday night over Columbia, look not at how the final margin was trimmed from 30 points to a more manageable 19, nor at the lack of a takeover scorer that has come to be commonplace on the corner of Union and Utopia in the Marcus Hattens, D’Angelo Harrisons and Shamorie Pondses of the world. Rather, the one prevailing takeaway is that of the head coach and his staff taking players and developing them to both their fullest potential AND the betterment of the team as a whole.
“I thought we got some more guys ready tonight,” Mike Anderson assessed when questions lingered as to how St. John’s (4-1) would respond off a loss for the first time this season following a two-point, last-second setback at the hands of Vermont Saturday afternoon. “You look at Greg Williams, I thought he got more comfortable. You saw David (Caraher) out there and what he brings to the table for our basketball team, so we’ve got some other guys that, now, all of a sudden, they’re contributing. You continue to see what Marcellus (Earlington) brings to our team.”
What a 180, right? And it only begins there on the surface. Williams continues to round into form after a preseason injury, Caraher has provided a lethal shot off the bench, and with eight points and eight rebounds, Earlington once again showed why the cries from Red Storm fans for Mullin to play him more often were legitimate gripes.
Then, there was Rasheem Dunn, who racked up 14 first-half points in almost as many minutes to raise his two-game total to 27 points in 50 minutes since receiving a waiver to play immediately, and more importantly, the interior presence of Josh Roberts (11 rebounds and three blocked shots in a defensive tour de force) and freshman Julian Champagnie (14 points, seven rebounds) in his latest revelatory moment in an X-factor rookie campaign.
“We’ve got a grading system,” Anderson revealed after a performance where Champagnie’s two-way play belied his tender age on more than one occasion. “And Julian and Josh have been probably the guys that have graded out the most consistent. Tonight, even early on, he wasn’t making shots, but then he started attacking the glass, running lanes, I think he got some offensive rebounds for us. He continues to get confidence, and that’s going to be important for us. His confidence growing only makes us a much better basketball team. I’ve been pleased thus far.”
With regard to Roberts, Anderson praised the rapid ascent of his sophomore forward’s own trajectory.
“He continues to patrol the backboard,” he said after last week’s win over New Hampshire. “He’s that back line. If we’re pressuring up, somebody’s got to be back there, and he’s starting to see that. Early on, he wasn’t seeing that, and now his rotation is getting there. He’s just playing with maximum effort, and it just takes our guys to another level. When he’s playing like that and engaged like that, you see our defense really just kind of go up. He’s playing to his strengths, and I think what you see right now – even in January and February – I think you’re going to see a guy that’s oozing with a lot of confidence.”
Heading into a weekend where on tap for the Red Storm is a third meeting with Arizona State in 23 months and a potential date with reigning national champion Virginia should St. John’s finally eclipse the Sun Devils, the growth is a welcome sight. So, too, is the assertion – a brutally honest and heartfelt claim at that as opposed to past lip service – that the best is yet to come.
“We’re not the type of team that’s going to show up and win,” said Anderson. “We’ve got to be blue-collar, do the right things defensively and offensively. This team is building right in front of your eyes. We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’ve got to continue – even the guys that start out – to bring that same sense of urgency, offensively and defensively.”

The waiting is the hardest part.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

JP’s 3 Thoughts: Seton Hall bounces back, trounces Saint Louis

Myles Powell followed 37-point masterpiece against Michigan State with 26 points Sunday as Seton Hall earned convincing road win at Saint Louis. (Photo by Wendell Cruz/Finish First Photos)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

For anyone who thought there might be a hangover with a quick turnaround from a tough loss to Michigan State on Thursday for Seton Hall, there was none to be found. The Pirates got off to a fast start under the Gateway Arch and aside from a couple blips, rolled to an 83-66 victory over the Saint Louis Billikens to go to 3-1 on the season.

Here are three quick thoughts as an observer from 1,000 miles away in New York:

1. Dominance

In terms of pure size, skill, and experience, this game was no contest. Seton Hall bounded out to an 18-3 lead to start this game, and that was without Myles Powell contributing much at all. The Pirates spread the ball around, and shredded the Billikens' defense while also doing good work on that end themselves (of note, Romaro Gill continued to be a factor with a couple blocked shots to assist the hot start).

Eventually, of course, Powell was Powell, finishing with an efficient 26 points, and Sandro Mamukelashvili, who kicked off the scoring with a spot-up three-pointer, added 17 points, seven rebounds and a trio of assists for a nice overall game. While the team shooting numbers went down in the second half after the Pirates tossed the ball in the hoop at a 48 percent clip in the first 20 minutes, Seton Hall ran away with it in the second half. A 7-0 run to begin the half took much of the remaining wind out of the Billikens' sails, and Saint Louis never seriously threatened from there.

2. Adjustments

The game wasn't without its rough spells, of course, and Saint Louis head coach Travis Ford threw on a 1-3-1 halfcourt trap defense in the first half that caused Seton Hall some problems initially. But Kevin Willard and company eventually adjusted, running Powell on the baseline to exploit the soft spot in the defense for a big three-pointer, and then adding another three on the next possession to finally break the home team out of it.

In the second half, Ford threw on a full-court press, and again, that gave the Pirates a little initial trouble as they got caught playing a tad too fast (and right into Saint Louis' hands) on a couple trips down the floor. But the Pirates adjusted to that as well, using some of their bigger players (notably Tyrese Samuel) to assist the press break, and once that happened, the rout resumed. Credit the bench for the scheme and the team for execution to stem the tide in what was a raucous environment early, but definitely wasn't so by the end of the game.

3. Whistles, Whistles, Whistles

Our first instance of the #RefShow surfaced on Sunday, as the crew, led by Michael Stephens, called a whopping 44 fouls (thought it was more, actually) that led to SIXTY-SEVEN free throws, including 41 for the home team. Luckily for the Pirates, they took care of their business at the charity stripe (21-for-26), while the Billikens, one of the worst free throw-shooting teams in the nation (343rd coming in), decidedly did not (23-for-41).

I am not entirely sure why the game was called so tightly, but again, despite all the whistles and the foul trouble for centers Ike Obiagu and Gill, both of whom fouled out in the second half, the Pirates still prevailed, and won big at that.

After they, by their own admission, said that the leadership should have been better down the stretch against Michigan State on Thursday, the Pirates put their money where their mouths were, and used that leadership inherent in a veteran team to handle their own business. Seton Hall now gets to enjoy a week off before hosting Florida A&M Saturday at the Prudential Center. Tipoff is slated for noon.

Manhattan vs. Albany Photo Gallery

Photos from Manhattan's 57-51 win over Albany on November 16, 2019:

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

Seton Hall’s late rally falls short against Princeton

Tony Bozzella looks on as Seton Hall battles Princeton Friday. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — In the long run, this could be a case of short-term pain, long-term gain. 

Not to say Seton Hall was slipping into a mindset of complacency after winning their first three games, but after being handed its first loss of the season, a 78-76 setback at the hands of a now 3-0 Princeton team, Tony Bozzella did not hide his displeasure.

“I am extremely disappointed,” the Pirates’ coach said following the game Friday. “Give credit to Princeton, but we played uncomposed. This is a terrible loss.”

Some may point to the loss of Shadeen Samuels, Seton Hall’s senior leader and Big East Preseason Player of the Year, who exited with an injury after three minutes and two points and is now day-to-day, per Bozzella, but Samuels’ absence was not the main reason for this loss. 

“Injuries did not decide the game,” Seton Hall’s Alexis Lewis, a game-high 27-point scorer, noted. “We are all capable of filling in. We have good players, but tonight, we made mistakes that cost us the game.”

Seton Hall started strong, holding an eight-point lead after the first period. That lead was reduced to three at the half. Princeton was making its move. The final half saw the Tigers take command. A number of times, Princeton was able to get out, push the ball and create scoring opportunities in a secondary offense, as well as break down the Pirate defense by getting in the lane and finding an open cutter or shooter on the perimeter. 

“The end of the third period and beginning of the fourth lost the game for us,” Bozzella lamented.

Princeton staked an 11-point lead with six minutes remaining in the game before Seton Hall made its final run. The Pirates were down one with eight seconds left. After the inbound, Desiree Elmore traveled. Princeton’s Maggie Connolly hit one of two three throws. With four seconds remaining, the Pirates had to go the length of the court. Lauren Park-Lane pushed it upcourt and fired a long-distance three-pointer that hit the back of the rim.

“We did not have aggressiveness or toughness,” Bozzella added. “Even that last play, we went over what we wanted to run during a timeout. We came out and didn’t execute what we wanted. Just very disappointing.”

One day of prep loomed before the next outing, a neutral-site game against Saint Joseph’s at Fordham. 

“That is not a big issue,” Bozzella said. “Our Big East schedule goes Friday-Sunday, so out of conference, we want to get ready for that. The big issue is toughness. We have to come out and be aggressive against an opponent that will do the same.”

Manhattan moves to 2-0 with last-minute comeback over Albany

Tykei Greene drives up for two of his game-high 17 points as Manhattan scored last seven points of second half to defeat Albany. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

NEW YORK — Manhattan turned in an offensive performance reminiscent of its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship outfits in its season opener Tuesday night, receiving five double-figure scoring efforts to steer a victory over Delaware State.

The Jaspers’ first attempt at an encore, however, took on a tenor more symbolic of the gritty brand for which the program has earned its reputation over the bulk of the past decade.

Four days removed from placing 85 points on the Draddy Gymnasium scoreboard, Manhattan employed a more workmanlike demeanor against a like-minded opponent in Albany, trailing by 11 points on two separate occasions before seizing control down the stretch to prevail Saturday in a 57-51 battle with the Great Danes that could ultimately be described as a tug-of-war played out on a hardwood floor.

“Early in the year, those are games you want to try to steal,” head coach Steve Masiello remarked as the Jaspers improved to 2-0 for the third time under his watch — which has now entered its ninth season — and second in the last three years. “I’m really proud of our guys, I thought they were extremely resilient tonight. They came back from two double-digit deficits and showed a lot of character, showed a lot of what the people in that locker room are about.”

“It was very telling for me that we played Tuesday night, and Wednesday, we had nine guys in the gym on their own on their day off. Samir Stewart was on the gun Tuesday night after the Delaware State game, shooting. There’s no value in that. That excites me. Whether we’re 0-2, 2-0, those are the things I’m looking at that move the needle for me, that tell me what this group could really be in time.”

Manhattan led for just over four minutes in a contest in which Albany (1-2) was able to get good looks against Masiello’s matchup zone defense at the beginning of the first half. The Great Danes connected on four of their first nine three-point field goal attempts en route to opening the game on a 15-4 run, then struck first out of the intermission when Cameron Healy’s three-pointer put the visitors ahead by the score of 34-23. The Jaspers’ engine would soon reach top speed, though, as a 10-0 run over the next five minutes turned a comfortable lead into a tighter one-point affair.

Albany would soon stretch its advantage to six points, but Manhattan fired back once more, utilizing an 11-2 spurt punctuated by a Tykei Greene three to take its first lead of the night with 6:10 remaining in regulation, at 46-43. The stretch drive proved to be a seesaw battle — with the Great Danes forging ahead one last time, at 51-50 — before a game-defining exchange occurred within the final two minutes after Pauly Paulicap missed a pair of free throws that would have put the Jaspers ahead by three. Trailing by one, Stewart’s driving layup sailed wide, but Paulicap fully extended himself to scoop up the errant basketball and lay it in himself to regain a lead the hosts would not relinquish.

“Every time I mess up on a play before, I always keep that chip on my shoulder,” the fifth-year senior forward imparted as his lunge and subsequent basket was the beginning of a game-ending spate of seven unanswered Manhattan points. “I always keep that in the back of my head to make up for it, and that’s what allows me to keep going throughout the game.”

“It’s one thing to talk about being a tough team, it’s another thing to do the things that tough teams do,” said Masiello — who tied his former mentor, Bobby Gonzalez, for fourth place on the Jaspers’ all-time wins list with the victory — after his team clamped down defensively, allowing just five second-half field goals to an Albany team that missed each of its final ten long-range attempts. “I thought in the second half, we did the things that tough teams do. We played our brand of basketball.”

In addition to his game-high 17 points, Greene supplemented his offense with nine rebounds, part of a night where he and fellow sophomore Elijah Buchanan combined for 17 boards to satisfy his coach, who always stresses consistent rebounding from his backcourt.

“We want to see car crashes on the glass,” an impassioned Masiello declared after Manhattan outrebounded Albany by a 28-16 margin in the second half. “I think that’s a very nice thing for us, and our guards are a big part of that. We did that tonight.”

Up next for Manhattan is a pivotal road trip — one that will last through December 14 — beginning Tuesday night at Samford, where Masiello will coach against his former college teammate, Scott Padgett. But beyond the sentiment lies business, and the veteran architect of the Jasper program knows exactly what he wants from the five-game, 25-day odyssey.

“You’ll know if you’re a good team or not by how you do on the road,” he astutely observed. “We’ll have our hands full, but we’re excited to go to Birmingham. In mid-major basketball, if you return a lot of guys, you’re going to have a tough time. We’ve got to be better than our excuses and any reasons in front of us. We’ll go one game at a time, 40 minutes at a time.”

Friday, November 15, 2019

JP’s 5 Thoughts: Seton Hall edged by Michigan State in Top 15 matchup

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, N.J. — Boy, was that a heck of a game. And a heck of a tough loss for the Seton Hall Pirates. 

At home in front of the third-largest crowd to ever witness a college basketball game at the Prudential Center (14,051), the third-ranked Michigan State Spartans made a late push to sink No. 12 Seton Hall, 76-73, despite an all-time great performance by Myles Powell. It was a March game in the month of November.

Here are the thoughts:

1. Them's The Breaks

Seton Hall had a 71-66 lead with 2:40 remaining after Powell hit a gigantic three-pointer while being fouled by MSU's Gabe Brown. But the Pirates couldn't close the deal down the stretch, and head coach Kevin Willard blamed one thing.

"With that group on the floor, we should have done much better with time management," he said. "That's where we lost the game. We took three quick shots, shots that were not within the offense, and that gave them fast break opportunities."

Indeed, as the Pirates missed, Michigan State took it and ran with it. Rocket Watts' triple made it a two-point game, and superstar guard Cassius Winston's three-pointer on the next trip down put Michigan State ahead by one. Two Powell free throws made the score 73-72 in favor Seton Hall, but a sharp pass by Winston to Malik Hall (more on him shortly) against a zone defense put Sparty ahead to stay.

And that was because on the Pirates' last two shots, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Powell both drove the right side of the lane into contact, but there was no whistle. Now, without the aid of a replay, I can tell you that the first drive was definitely closer to a foul than the second one, but as Willard mentioned, with better clock management, Seton Hall may not have had to worry about the whistle. Powell certainly wasn't going to gripe about it.

"I'm not one of those players (that complains about the referees)," Powell said. "If you know basketball and you think I got fouled, I'll just leave it at that. The refs did a good job, they let us play basketball. A couple times, we went to the basket, they went to the basket, and they just let us play. When (they're) letting us play the whole game, you can't be looking for a call in the last 15-20 seconds. As a leader and a captain, I could have made a better decision, but I'm not going to blame it on the refs."

2. This... Is... Newark!

Holy cow, was this a fun atmosphere tonight. A mostly blue Prudential Center brought it from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Before the doors even opened, I saw the lines of students waiting to get in at about 20-deep, and the student section was pretty much full 45 minutes before tipoff. 

The rest of the fans made their way to their seats a little later, but still got there before the start of the game, and as I said, they were on every dribble, pass, and whistle. They yelped when they felt there should have been traveling called on Michigan State, they griped about fouls called on the home team, and maybe most of all, they were loud at the right times, so loud as the Pirates were introduced that by the time public address announcer Tim McLoone got to Powell, he couldn't even be heard.

Color the Hall of Fame coach on the visiting sideline impressed.

"I've been in a lot of great arenas," Tom Izzo said. "They don't have to take a back seat to anybody."

3. The Legend Grows

The $1 million question before the game was what Myles Powell's status was. After spraining his ankle early in the win over Stony Brook on Saturday, Kevin Willard said that Powell would be out a while, but rumors started almost instantly that the real story was much more rosy.

Turns out, the rumors were not only true, they were even more true than could have been expected. Powell not only played on a less-than-100-percent ankle, he shone brightly on the big stage, pouring in 37 points on 12-of-27 shooting, 6-for-14 from three-point range, and 7-of-9 from the charity stripe. 23 of those points came in the second half, with several of those patented "How The Fresh Heck Did He Do That?!" Powell shots that, of course, whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Much ink, digital and from good, old-fashioned pens, has been spent in praise of a player that Willard has often called the best player in college basketball. And Izzo has now joined that group, though he did it without quill or parchment.

"(He's) one of the best players I've ever seen in college basketball," the Spartans' skipper said. "He seems to play hard, seems to have fun, seems like a great kid. Didn't talk a lot of crap, just did it the right way. My hat's off to him."

Coming from a coach who has seen more basketball than most, that's impressive. He wasn't finished, either.

"I don't know if God could have stopped him on some of those shots," Izzo quipped.

Pirate fans are so used to routine brilliance from the Trenton native, but tonight took it to a still higher level. While the initial prognosis for his ankle was definitely not as bad as it was portrayed to the media on Saturday, to go out and get 37 points against a team that year in and year out is one of the better teams in the nation on a less-than-perfect set of wheels ranks right up with one of the best performances this scribe has ever seen. And it's still only November.

4. The Hall Steps Up

Tonight, a Hall stepped up big in the second half. Unfortunately for Pirate fans, I refer to Michigan State freshman forward Malik Hall, who — despite playing in just his third career game and scoring as many points this season as I have up until halftime tonight — scored 17 second-half points while not missing a shot from the field. His 7-for-7 performance lifted the Spartans after they had Winston, then veteran forward Xavier Tillman in foul trouble, and fellow starter Aaron Henry dealing with a gimpy ankle himself.

Izzo said it best afterwards: You don't win a game like this without something like that happening, a player who most definitely was not high on Seton Hall's scouting report, playing huge in a big spot. Kudos to him, because without Hall's contributions, The Hall probably wins this one.

5. Cale Comes To Play

There are a couple things to take away from this game, the first being that Myles Cale appears to be back. He sunk a trio of threes in the second half and really gave the team a lift, finishing with 12 points. The junior had struggled in the team's first two contests, and while he has been hot and cold historically, something seemed a little off.

"I had a great conversation with him after the Stony Brook game," Willard said. "Sometimes when you go from your sophomore year to your junior year, you think you're going to start doing things magically. I told him he needs to get a little simpler on the offensive end. He was aggressive, but he was simple (tonight). He didn't try to force things, and took the open shot."

Throughout most of this game, it felt like the Pirates needed someone else to score other than Powell before he went bonkers in the second half, and Cale was that player. Perhaps this will be the start of an upward trend for the rangy wing.

The second thing to take away is that this game, for all that Seton Hall failed to do down the stretch, showed that the Pirates can hang with the very best that college hoops has to offer. Indeed, talking to Willard and the coaches after the game, there was very little gloom to go around. Part of it may be the quick turnaround heading to Saint Louis on Sunday for the first road test of the year, but I think that tonight served as evidence that this team is most definitely legit.

"Now we know we can compete with those teams up top, with the Oregons, the Gonzagas that we're looking forward to playing," Cale said. "This is a hard loss today, but we know we could have won if we did a couple things differently."

Kevin Willard quote book: Michigan State

On Myles Powell and whether he aches for his inability to close the game:
“He’s the best player in the country, and it’s not even close for what he does. That was a great college basketball game. There’s no aching, you know? We left it all out there, they left it all out there. It was just a great college basketball game, and they just made some plays that we didn’t, and we’ll learn from it and get better from it.”

On the difference in the final two minutes:
“I think the biggest difference was — what did you call it, Jerry, the Mother Seton miracle juice? Yeah, I think that was the biggest difference. We’re up five with 2:41 to go, and with that group on the floor, we should have done much better with time management. That’s where we lost the game. We got up five and we took three quick shots, shots that were not within the offense, and it ended up giving them fast break opportunities, and give Rocket (Watts) credit. He made a big one and the other kid (Cassius Winston) made a big one. But I still like the way we executed down the stretch coming out of the timeout. I thought Sandro got a great look right in front of the rim, and then even after they missed the free throw, I thought Myles definitely got fouled going to the basket, and he did everything you’re supposed to do. But again, give them a lot of credit, they made some big plays.”

On Myles Cale as a complementary scorer alongside Powell:
“I had a great conversation with MC after the game the other night, and sometimes when you go from your sophomore to your junior year, you think you’re just going to start doing things magically, and I told him he’s got to get back to being a little more simpler on the offensive end. He was aggressive, but he was simple, he didn’t try to force things, he took the open shots. He does so many other good things on the defensive end for us. Between him and Jared (Rhoden), as they kind of get a little more confidence, I love that spot.”

On Michigan State’s Malik Hall:
“Oh, man. (Thomas) Kithier made a three in the first half that looked like Larry Bird, and then Malik — if he shoots like that and they’re doing all that role replacing, you’ve got to deal with (Xavier) Tillman down low and he’s coming up high, you’ve got Gabe Brown in the corner or (Aaron) Henry in the corner — you’ve got to start switching pick-and-rolls and now all of a sudden, you’re putting a four man on Cassius Winston, and good luck with that, you’re not winning that battle. That kid played terrific. Obviously, we knew he was a good player — he’s at Michigan State — but 7-for-7 and making the shots he made, that was really a game-changer.”

On when he knew Powell was ready to play Thursday:
“He said when he came back in for film that he was ready to go. We worked out this morning at 10 a.m., he didn’t practice yesterday, he did some dummy offense yesterday when he walked through. He came in, he said he was ready to go and he wants to play. I knew he’d play, I didn’t think he’d be able to do what he did. That just shows you what a special player he is.”

On his takeaway from Thursday night:
“We have to get a little bit better at executing offensively. It’s been my worry because Ike (Obiagu) was hurt, Myles has been hurt, Romaro’s been hurt, Jared’s been hurt. We haven’t had enough practice time to play against very, very good defensive teams. We have to execute better on the offensive end. I know we’ll get better at that, and I like what we did defensively in the first half. In the second half, I thought both teams just made great plays.”

On Sunday's matchup at Saint Louis:
“We don’t have an easy game coming up. We’re going to have to bounce back, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys. We lost a tough one last year to Saint Louis, we lost a tough one to Louisville at home last year, and we got better and better as the year went on. I think that’s what I’m really excited about with this team, that this team’s going to get much better as the year goes on. I don’t think we’re close to where we’re going to be in another month.”

On how much fun this game was:
“It was great. For a November 14 college basketball game, the atmosphere was great — two high-level teams with high-level players going at it — it was a lot of fun. The crowd was phenomenal, our student section was great, I loved the fact that they gave a standing ovation to Cassius when he got announced, it just shows the type of students we have. It was fun. I’m going to go back, and I’m looking forward to watching the tape and I’m looking forward to going back to work with this team. Would we like to have won it? Absolutely, but we’ll get better from it and we’ll improve from it.”

On the last two minutes:
“We took three bad shots. Our emotions were really going well, we got a great stop on that end, MP came down and took a quick one and then Ant came down and tried to get in the lane and just missed a little floater, and both of those led to their threes. So those two possessions really kind of hurt us, and we should have been in this instance where we took 28-29 seconds, take a shot and then sprint back, because I thought we were doing a pretty decent job with that group defensively.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Iona comes up short against Ohio in home opener

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Four new faces and a new acting head coach christened a newly-renovated arena Wednesday night as Iona returned to familiar confines for its first home game of the season.

After playing catch-up most of the night and ultimately pulling to within one point late in the second half, the Gaels were unable to complete the comeback, falling short in an 81-72 loss to Ohio University at the remodeled Hynes Athletics Center.

“Not good enough,” said E.J. Crawford — whose 21 points were tops for the Gaels (0-2) in the losing effort — of Iona’s execution. “We’ve got to understand, every game, somebody’s coming to beat us. We’ve got to bring it 100 percent, no letups, no anything. We’ve just got to get better and get back in the lab.”

“We just didn’t give enough,” a brutally honest Tajuan Agee succinctly surmised. “I didn’t give enough, I was bad today. Just together as a unit, we just didn’t play enough and we just couldn’t get it done.”

Playing under the direction of associate head coach Tra Arnold for the second straight game while Tim Cluess continues to tend to a health matter that has kept him off the bench to start the season, Iona had difficulty finding its way offensively through most of the first half, allowing Ohio (3-0) to set the tone from beyond the arc by connecting on seven of twelve three-point field goal attempts. The Gaels did show glimmers of hope — namely from Dylan Van Eyck and Mo Thiam — off the bench, but could not close the gap.

“We just didn’t make the plays to win the game,” Arnold assessed. “We competed, but we just didn’t finish. We didn’t get a rebound when we needed to, and we got lost in certain things. We’ve been in two close games now.”

After Ohio opened up a 60-47 lead with ten minutes remaining in regulation, Iona slowly chipped away at its deficit, drawing within one point less than six minutes later. The Bobcats answered with a dunk, then turned an offensive foul charged to Agee — his fourth — into a three-pointer at the other end, followed by a transition basket that swelled the lead back to eight points and essentially iced the outcome for the visitors.

“Their guys made a couple of plays that our guys didn’t,” Arnold reflected. “That’s the recipe for where we’re at right now. We had our lapses, too. We’ve got to get better defensively and offensively.”

Rather than use the excuse of not having his championship-winning coach as a crutch, Agee offered blunt reality when addressing what went wrong.

“There’s no excuse,” the senior forward brusquely interjected, dismissing a perceived easy way out. “Coach Arnold’s putting us in position to be in games. We’ve just got to close the games out. Not having Coach Cluess is a struggle, but we’re not missing a beat as far as coaching.”

“We just can’t get it done. One thing about this team is that we don’t give up, it’s just that last hump. We get to the top of the hill and then we just fall right back down. We’ve got to keep getting better, and hopefully we can get over that hump and get our first W.”

Monday, November 11, 2019

Seton Hall vs. Stony Brook Photo Gallery

Photos from Seton Hall's 74-57 win over Stony Brook on November 9, 2019:

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Hofstra uses 34-4 first-half run to down Monmouth for first win of season

Desure Buie led Hofstra with 17 points as Pride defeated Monmouth Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Joe Mihalich was nothing less than satisfied Wednesday night after Hofstra lost its season opener to San Jose State, noting the Pride got what it deserved in defeat.

Three days later, the script, as it is so often apt to do in college basketball, was turned on its head.

A 34-4 run over the final ten minutes of the first half and six double-figure scorers -- the first such instance in almost three years -- took a tie game at the first media timeout into a runaway, one from which Hofstra emerged 94-74 victors over Monmouth Saturday to claim its third victory over the Hawks in as many seasons.

"We talked the last few days about attitude and effort," Mihalich recalled as Hofstra (1-1) shot over 63 percent from the floor in the opening stanza to shake loose from a Monmouth team looking to win its second straight road game to begin the season. "If anything, we learned a lesson that this is how it has to be. There's one way to play the game, and I thought we did that today."

The Pride was able to essentially dictate tempo in the first half, luring Monmouth (1-1) into a track meet through the opening minutes, relying on a high-octane offense still adjusting to life without Justin Wright-Foreman. The Hawks managed to stay within earshot for the early part of the period, but an Omar Silverio three-pointer with 10:37 remaining before halftime ignited a stretch of 15 unanswered points that put Hofstra in front to stay.

"He gave us a boost," Mihalich said of Silverio, the sophomore transfer from Rhode Island who chipped in for 13 points off the bench. "He can do that. He can score."

In addition to Silverio, Tareq Coburn recorded a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, Jalen Ray tallied 14 points, Isaac Kante added 15, and the backcourt duo of Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie amassed 17 points apiece, the latter also supplementing his offense with eight assists and drawing six fouls to contribute in a way the final score neglected on the surface.

"He's just so important to our team," Mihalich said, praising Buie. "When he has the ball in his hands, he makes everyone else better. He just fills the stat sheet up."

Hofstra placed six players in double figures for the first time since a 38-point drubbing of crosstown rival Stony Brook on December 13, 2016, and the Pride's collective performance left Monmouth head coach King Rice brutally honest with what his squad was left to endure.

"We got big brothered today," Rice said after Monmouth would get no closer than 13 points midway through the second half. "I knew they would make shots, I didn't think they'd shoot 65 percent in the first half. It was a good game for seven minutes. I thought they looked tired, so we subbed and then their kids buckled down and whooped us from there forward."

The loss of Wright-Foreman -- drafted by the Utah Jazz this past June -- is an irreplaceable void even for a team such as Hofstra that returns every other piece of its core this season, experience that proved pivotal in the Pride being selected as the Colonial Athletic Association favorite entering the year, but the balance exhibited in victory Saturday proves that although it takes time to reveal itself, the sum of the whole is still greater than the parts.

"We're trying to find out who we are," Mihalich admitted. "We have a lot of returners, but it's still a whole new team. We're trying to figure out what this team is and what we're all about. We think we know, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. Every day, we're trying to get better and build toward something good."

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Hofstra vs. Monmouth Photo Gallery

Photos from Hofstra's 94-74 win over Monmouth on November 9, 2019:

(All photos by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

JP's 5 Thoughts: Seton Hall clamps down without Powell to beat Stony Brook

With Myles Powell out for most of afternoon due to sprained ankle, Sandro Mamukelashvili picked up slack for Seton Hall, leading Pirates with 17 points in win over Stony Brook. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. -- It was not an ideal day for the 12th-ranked Seton Hall Pirates in any regard. 

With Michigan State looming on the horizon, Stony Brook came to Walsh Gymnasium for the first time since the 2012 NIT, and was determined to give the Hall a fight just like that night seven years ago.

And that was before an ankle injury to their star just three-and-a-half minutes into the game. But the Pirates persevered, as they are so used to doing, using a big second half to end up pulling away for a 74-57 victory, improving to 2-0 on the season.

Here are the Thoughts:

1. Powell Goes Down

On a transition drive with the game still young, Myles Powell drove the left side of the line and was contested well into a bit of an awkward shot. He came down on a defender's foot, limped off the floor with what turned out to be a sprained left ankle, and would not return to the game.

Obviously, all thoughts for the rest of the half rested with the Pirates' star player, who means literally almost everything to the program. In the second half, it was back to business for the most part as the game remained close, but what of Powell?

"Myles is getting X-rays right now," head coach Kevin Willard said after the game. "He got a really good ankle sprain, it's going to be a while. More than likely, no chance (he'll play) on Thursday."

While that does sound a bit grim, especially since Myles himself and the entire fan base have been looking forward to that game for so long, keep in mind that Willard does have a track record of assuming the worst when it comes to injuries, and the Pirates have also been very cautious in the past when having players coming back from injury. Stay tuned.

2. Sea-sick

Although the Pirates did score eight straight points without him early, Seton Hall's offense struggled to find its footing in the first half without Powell, falling down to 31 percent shooting by the break. All through that time, the Seawolves -- led by point guard Makale Foreman's 11 points -- gained confidence and began to realize they had a shot. 

It brought back some bad memories of the last two meetings against Stony Brook for Seton Hall: The first round of the 2012 NIT, and the following regular season at Prudential Center, both games that were narrow Seton Hall victories not decided until the final seconds. Obviously, there were completely different players and coaching staffs involved, but for a while there, it felt like it would again come down to the wire against the Seawolves.

But this game did no such thing.

3. Big Guys Being Big

With Powell out of commission, Sandro Mamukelashvili stepped up his game. He got off to a hot shooting start before Powell went down, but after Stony Brook made their run, his emotional intensity went up a few ticks. He concluded the first half with a dunk to cut the Pirates' deficit to two points, and in the second half, he picked it up even more, finishing with a game-high 17 points along with five boards and a pair of assists on 6-of-11 shooting. 

Speaking with him after the game, he said that as a junior in his third season in the program, he saw the opportunity to step up and produce, and had the confidence to do so. For a while in the second half, he was the Pirates' offense.

Meanwhile, 7-footer Romaro Gill, who picked up two first-half fouls -- including one on a three-point shooter -- went scoreless in the first half, but stepped up big-time as well. He chipped in nearly a double-double in the second half alone, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. His plus-18 rating led not just the Pirates, but every player in the game at the end, with no Seton Hall player contributing more on the scoreboard or on the glass in the final 20 minutes. 

"Having Ro back out there really helped us," Willard said. "Ike (Obiagu) was still struggling from his sprained ankle (against Wagner) -- that's why Ikey didn't play as much. But the reason we struggled last year a little bit in the middle of the season is that Ro missed seven games. He gives us a presence, he knows what he's doing offensively. He knows who he is and doesn't try to be who he's not, and that's the biggest thing."

Seton Hall doesn't win this game going away like it did without its big men.

4. Defense Stands Tall

When Powell went out, the question was, "where do the Pirates go to replace his scoring output?"

The answer is "nowhere," because no one can equal his scoring prowess. But they also didn't need to, because their second-half defense was outstanding. They held the scrappy Seawolves to just 30 percent shooting after the break, including a 1-for-11 mark from three-point range. So what changed?

"I thought we played really good defense in the first half," Willard commented. "But as we started missing shots, we got a little deflated. I think we were able to shut down No. 1 (Makale Foreman) and made them take some tough shots, got on the break and got some easy buckets."

Foreman, who led Stony Brook with 16 points in the game, scored only five on 2-for-6 shooting in the second half. Give credit to Shavar Reynolds in particular, who ended up with nine points, four assists and three rebounds in the box score, but who did his best work in ways that don't get reflected by statistics -- he was right in Foreman's hip pocket -- and Stony Brook just didn't have the firepower to continue to hang tough once the Hall shut off the perimeter.

5. Conquering Sparta

Now comes the toughest task: National Player of the Year candidate Cassius Winston, Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo, and the Top 5-ranked Michigan State Spartans. It was going to be a mountain of a game anyway, but the Pirates will most likely be without their own star player for what should be a sold-out Prudential Center contest on Thursday night in prime time.

When asked what will be the toughest part of dealing without Powell, Willard mentioned that he will need to find a rotation that worked, adding that trying to find said rotation was one of the things that cost the Hall in the first half. But one thing is certain: The only way Seton Hall will be able to slay the dragon, so to speak, with or without Powell, is to come together as a unit like it did on Saturday. The Pirates will need that defensive toughness, that togetherness, to be able to sink the Spartans' ship on Thursday night, with or without Powell.

Powell is the unquestioned leader of this group, and time and again, he uses the word "brothers" to describe his relationship with his teammates. That will be put to maybe its biggest test to date this week, and I, for one, can't wait to see how it all goes down.