No.16 Seton Hall holds off St. John's at home, 81-65Date: February 24, 2020
By: Heaven Hill
On an emotional afternoon, featuring a pregame reception for the legendary Bob Ley as well as a special appearance from him on the WSOU broadcast in the second half, the Pirates picked up a decisive win over the Red Storm 81-65, moving to 20-7 on the season and 12-3 in conference play.
Despite the enthralling buzzer beater win over the Butler Bulldogs last Wednesday, that game marked the fourth straight contest where the Hall trailed at the half to their opponent. While the Pirates have built up some of a reputation and the stats have reflected that they’re a second half team, Seton Hall’s head coach Kevin Willard stated that he wanted the Pirates to start with some urgency offensively and defensively.
Unfortunately for St. John’s, it looked like Seton Hall heeded his words as they raced out to a quick 23-8 lead, as the Pirates forced seven turnovers and multiple missed shots in the first 12 minutes of the clash. This was particularly alarming for St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson and his squad, as in their last game against Xavier they had four turnovers total, and came into Sunday’s bout ranking third in the nation in turnover margin. The Pirates were either forcing turnovers or misses and turning these defensive possessions into easy points.
Sandro Mamukelashvili was the star of the first half, as Quincy McKnight and Myles Powell both struggled somewhat offensively. Ever since his return from the wrist injury, Mamukelashvili has been the player people expected him to be at the start of the season, and he dominated the first 20 minutes of action.
Whether he canned a three pointer, or dunked the ball ferociously, or even dropping a dime to Romaro Gill for a slam of his own, he had his fingerprints all over this one early as he finished the first half in double figures, with six rebounds and two assists as well.
St. John’s was able to go on a 10-3 run, cutting the lead to 10 with a couple of three pointers from star LJ Figueroa, but some late buckets from Shavar Reynolds and Powell pushed the lead back to 14 as the Pirates entered halftime. This was a complete turnaround from the last time these teams faced off in Madison Square Garden, as this time it was Seton Hall with a double-digit lead, with the Red Storm only tallying 22 points in the first half.
Josh Roberts, who burned the Hall last time with his scoring had four points at the break, and Marcellus Earlington, averaging 18 points over his last three games, had just two at halftime. Safe to say, the Pirates had taken notes from the last faceoff.
The second half started off rough for the Hall, as St. John’s rattled off seven straight points to cut the lead to seven points, but the Pirates weathered the storm with a dunk from Gill and a three pointer from Jared Rhoden to push the lead back to 12. After the U16 media timeout with the Pirate lead down to nine, this is when Ley took over play-by-play duties on the broadcast and it seemed as if Willard’s squad knew it as during his span on the call, the Pirates extended the lead to 16, feeding off the energy of the Prudential Center crowd.
From McKnight doing his best chef impression knifing through the Red Storm for a tough finish, to huge scores from Rhoden and Powell, the Rock was on fire as the Hall extinguished any hopes for a St. John’s comeback. Once Ley took over the broadcast, the lead was never down to single digits again.
This was especially huge for the Pirates, with them needing a win with no pressure as they head into a bye week, facing an absolute gauntlet of games coming up.
The game was never in doubt over the last 10 minutes, as the lead ballooned to 23 at one point and the win was capped off with a thunderous 360 slam from Myles Cale, who finished with 10 points and two steals off the bench. Mamukelashvili had his best game of the year, finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds as he picked up his first double-double of the season. Finally, Powell added 13 points in the second half to finish with 18 on the afternoon, showing to everyone you can’t keep a legendary scorer down.
The Pirates move to 20-7 and 12-3 in conference play, as they travel next to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles in Milwaukee, Wis., on Markus Howard’s senior night. Let’s see if the Hall can build some more momentum as the season winds down.
Heaven Hill can be reached at email@example.com.