Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEWARK — One game into the post-Jeremy Hazell Era at Seton Hall and three things are clear.
One, Jordan Theodore has some Big Cojones.
Two, Herb Pope looks like a new man.
And three, Seton Hall desperately needs a third scorer.
“[Theodore] said he wanted the ball at the end of the game so we gave him the ball,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard said after Theodore scored nine of his career-high 25 points in overtime as Seton Hall escaped with a 75-71 victory over St. Francis (N.Y.) in their season-opener.
“One reason I love him is because he does want to be the guy and you gotta have a good set of [stones] to be that guy.”
Theodore, the former Paterson Catholic star, must emerge as the team’s unquestioned leader this season without Hazell, who scored more than 2,000 career points in a Pirates uniform and is now playing professionally in Spain.
He took a big step in that direction on this night when, after being whistled for a costly travel call with 9.9 seconds left in regulation and the Pirates trailing by two, he hit a running layup to tie the game at 62 and send it into overtime.
During the extra period, he attacked the basket and went 7-of-7 from the line to help the Pirates get the win.
Still, he knows he has to be more efficient than the 8-for-23 he was from the floor, with just 2 assists and 4 turns to go with it.
“He’s gotta pick and choose his spots a little better,” Willard said.
St. Francis coach Glenn Braica also praised Theodore’s defensive abilities after he made 2 steals.
“He’s a pest defensively, too,” he said. “He really bothers you defensively, which is probably his biggest impact on the game.”
Without Hazell — who took 21 percent of the team’s shots a year ago — Seton Hall needs to get 40-50 points a night from Theodore and Pope –whom Braica called “potential all-Big East players” — at least until a third scorer emerges.
“Oh, definitely,” Theodore said. “You know, it was the first game. As the season progresses, the young guys are going to give us more. It was the first game, they had some little jitters. A lot of them didn’t take a lot of shots tonight.
“I went 8-for-23. My shot wasn’t the best tonight, but I did what I had to do to help the team….I won’t be going 8-for-23 a lot.”
Seton Hall got just 8 points off the bench — all from freshman Haralds Karlis — while fellow frosh Aaron Cosby started and managed just 3 points on 1-of-4 shooting.
The 6-8 Pope was a capable wingman to Theodore, adding 21 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals.
A year ago, he looked slow and sluggish for most of the season after collapsing in the spring due to an anomalous right coronary artery and undergoing heart surgery.
Yet after spending seven weeks this summer with John Lucas training in Houston, a slim-downed Pope looks like he can be a menace in the Big East.
“I felt great the whole game until I got the cramps and then I played through it,” he said. “And then overtime came and I told coach, ‘I don’t want to hurt us.'”
He added: “I feel good every night. As long as my teammates help me out and get me the ball in great position, hey, who knows? I’m not looking to do numbers, I’m looking to win.”
Pope could well be the best power forward in the Big East this season if he stays healthy.
“I think he’s the best power forward in the league,” Theodore said. “I think he’s the best power forward out there right now because he does so many things.”
For the Pirates, who were picked 13th in the Big East, to win, they must get a third- and potentially fourth-scorer to step up going forward.
After going scoreless in the first half, forward Patrik Auda finished with 8 points and 6 boards.
“We need him to be the third scorer and he has the ability to be that third scorer,” Willard said of Auda.
Fuquan Edwin, Theodore’s former PC running buddy, scored Seton Hall’s first five points of the game before getting into foul trouble. He finished with 10 points and was barely a factor.
“I do feel like me and Herb will have to do more, but I feel like as the season progresses the young guys are going to step up and they’re going to do a lot more for us,” Theodore said.
“Patrik and Fu were in foul trouble early, so they was out the game. And they know that we’re really leaning on them because teams are going to take me and Herb night in and night out because they know that we’re the seniors.
“We’re just going to need them guys. I think as the season progresses, them guys are really going to step up and help us.”
Seton Hall played without freshman guard Sean Grennan (emergency appendectomy), freshman forward Brandon Mobley (shoulder surgery) and freshman big man Kevin Johnson (academics). “It hurts us a little bit that we got a team sitting in dress clothes that’s pretty darn good itself,” Willard said, adding that Grennan is expected to return Monday…Willard said Travis Nichols of St. Francis “played absolutely fantastic” after he put up 25 points and 14 rebounds. Former Oak Hill guard Ben Mockford also scored 13 points, hitting 4-of-10 from beyond the arc….Seton Hall had an impressive group of recruits at the game: Mike Young, Reggie Cameron, Isaiah Briscoe, C.J. Davis and Hallice Cooke among them…Seton Hall leaves Monday for the Charleston Classic where they will face VCU Thursday.
(Photo courtesy NJ.com)
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.