It wasn’t like anyone was confident about the Seton Hall Pirates’ chances of winning a NCAA tournament game this year. Most Seton Hall fans have been down on the team all season.
That’s the way it goes when they have blown leads to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Marquette Golden Eagles and Villanova Wildcats this season and lost to all those teams that they had no business losing. It’s hard to take them seriously when they wilt after teams make a run on them and get ahead of them for good. They know how to lose more than they know how to win.
If Seton Hall wanted to erase all doubts about them, they failed Thursday night in the Big East Tournament. After outplaying the Butler Bulldogs in the first half, they succumbed to Butler’s second half surge as they went on to lose 75-74 at Madison Square Garden. What’s sad was Seton Hall fans expected it, and deep down, the players probably expected it.
Rather than showing it’s a different team with the second season upon us, the Pirates strengthened everyone’s conviction that they are going to be one and out in the tournament for the third straight year. Encouraging.
This was supposed to be a tuneup to Seton Hall’s game against Villanova Friday night. This was a game they were supposed to work out the kinks and get an easy win against a team they should beat. After all, Butler is in transition under first-year head coach LaVall Jordan, who replaced Chris Holtmann, who left to coach the Ohio State Buckeyes. Instead, the Hall will be going to the NCAA tournament by wondering if they are going to win a tourney game.
If the Pirates can’t manage to survive adversity, then why should anyone be excited about them? It was up to them to give reason for fans to be confident.
In the first half against Butler, Seton Hall executed their offense with precision. They made great passes by finding their open guy. They made their cuts. They got screens. They shot 65.4 percent, including 7-for-9 from beyond the arc. This seemed like an easy victory in the making when they led 43-35 at halftime.
But this is where everything got interesting in the second half. Of course it was.
Butler made their move after Seton Hall took a 48-39 lead. Sean McDermott started the surge for Butler by making a layup and shooting a three to cut their deficit to 48-44.
McDermott continued to stay hot by shooting a 3-pointer to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 53-51. Overall, he scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.
From there, doubts crept in. Seton Hall had to have that here we go again feeling again. There’s no question the Seton Hall fans at the Garden did. Butler had the Hall where they want them, and they knew it.
Seton Hall did score some points to extend the lead, but no one was fooled. Butler played like a team that had all the momentum, and they were ready to attack a prey in the Hall. They kept answering whenever Seton Hall scored.
With Seton Hall holding on to a 64-57 lead, Butler’s Kamar Baldwin got hot at the right time as he engineered a 15-7 run to give them a 72-71 lead by executing couple of three-point plays, shooting a 3-pointer, making couple of free throws, assisting on Henry Baddley’s layup and hitting a jumper. He scored 24 of his 32 points overall in the second half.
It was only Butler’s second lead of the game. The other time they took a lead was when Tyler Wideman made a layup to give them a 2-0 lead.
Despite what Butler has done, this was an opportunity for Seton Hall to show things can be different. This was a chance to show they have the mettle to win a competitive tournament game.
Khadeen Carrington took charge by making a layup and hitting a free throw to execute a three-point play to give the Hall a 74-73 lead with 12 seconds to go in regulation.
It was up to Seton Hall to get a stop. Baldwin had a chance to be the villain that would ruin Carrington’s moment. He raced past Seton Hall forward Michael Nzei, but he could not execute the layup. This is where things went awry for the Hall. Not only they forgot to box out, but they did not get the rebound as Tyler Wideman (10 points) was able to get the rebound and hit the tip-in.
Seton Hall had one more shot to win it, but Myles Powell could not get the ball to go in.
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. That’s been the story for Seton Hall all season. From the thrill of victory to agony of defeat.
Seton Hall lost this game because they could not get the rebounds down the stretch as they gave Butler too many second-chance opportunities in the second half. They lost because they could not get stops.
This has been the story of Hall’s season. They can’t hit the big shots, and they can’t defend in crunch time. This is why they have blown leads and lost. Part of the reason is these guys play so many minutes that they become fatigued in the end since Seton Hall does not have much depth. This is where Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard should take a hit for not developing a bench.
There’s no reason for Seton Hall to be taken seriously come tournament time.
The Hall is better off giving their NCAA tourney spot to a much-deserving bubble team rather than provide one more agonizing moment.