Seton Hall had to do it the hard way after losing three games in a row prior to this past week.
They had to beat two ranked Big East teams in Marquette and Villanova at Prudential Center to make sure they are actually in the NCAA tournament rather than relying on the Big East Tournament to help them get off the bubble.
Mission accomplished. They defeated No. 16 Marquette 73-64 on Wednesday night, and they followed it up by defeating No. 23 Villanova 79-75 on Saturday afternoon. This puts the Pirates to 18-12 for the season and 9-9 in conference play. With the Big East Tournament coming up, they should win at least two more games.
This should impress the NCAA tournament committee when it comes to Selection Sunday. Not just beating Marquette and Villanova, but finding a way to respond when everything was on the line. Seton Hall rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Marquette on a 18-0 run to finish the game, and they played an all-around good game to beat Villanova. They searched for ways to win than excuses to lose.
Saturday’s win may not have been as impressive as Wednesday’s in a sense this was not even a contest. Don’t let the close score fool you. Still, the Pirates came out ready to play from start to finish. They were prepared. They did not let up. Their defense set the tone, and five of their players scored in double figures in their win against Villanova. This was everyone’s best performance of the season in a game the Hall needed to win.
It’s great to see Myles Powell lead the team by being the guy that provided much-needed basket like he did against Marquette when he scored 10 points in a row to complement Seton Hall’s 18-0 run to end the game, but on a day like Saturday, they needed everyone to beat Villanova. Seton Hall received that from Myles Cale (19 points), Michael Nzei (10 points), Sandro Mamukelashvili (12 points) and Jared Rhoden (15 points). Oh, and Powell did well by leading the Hall with 20 points.
Seton Hall’s defense was why they won the game. They pressed and trapped Villanova’s shooters all game long to the point they forced the Wildcats to shot-clock violations. Collin Gillespie had to earn his game-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Eric Paschall (14 points) and Phil Booth (16 points) were non-factors in this game as they were pedestrian at best. How good was the Pirates’ defense? Villanova never led in this game.
It could have been easier for the Hall to give in to Marquette and Villanova. It could have been easier to call it a season. They didn’t. They knew how good they are. They knew they weren’t going to waste a good season by going belly-up against Marquette and Villanova.
This is where Kevin Willard deserves credit. He continues to get the most out of his players. He has his team finding ways to win every year. In a year no one thought Seton Hall would be a tournament team with Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez graduating, he has his team in a position to be there for the fourth straight year. This is called sustained success. He should definitely be the Big East Coach of the Year.
Willard never lets up on his players. He drives his players, and it’s easy to see why when role players such as Rhoden and Romaro Gill are finding ways to produce and be on the court in the second half. This is coaching at a high level, and it’s why he is gaining a good reputation as a college basketball coach among his contemporaries.
This game is an example of how well Willard coached this game. He had his team prepared based on how they played defensively, and he was able to get quality minutes out of everyone.
In the last four years, Willard has brought results at Seton Hall. This is as good of a run as Seton Hall has had in a long time after seasons of awful basketball and mediocrity. This program is a fine oil machine where everyone steps up and the team reloads year after year. It’s what Willard envisioned when he took the job. It took awhile for sustained success, but it finally arrived.
It has been a rewarding season, and now Seton Hall’s season has been validated with another tournament appearance.
They earned it after beating Marquette and Villanova.
Now, it’s about how much better they can be. There should be thoughts of winning the Big East Tournament. Maybe going to the Sweet 16.
The possibilities are endless.
Seton Hall learned something about themselves this season.
They are better than people give them credit for.