Seton Hall Loses to Marquette, Tournament Berth Now at Risk | Zagsblog
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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.
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Tuesday / September 27.
  • Seton Hall Loses to Marquette, Tournament Berth Now at Risk

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    NEWARK — It started out like a dream for Seton Hall.

    Wins against Villanova and St. John’s. Nationally-ranked. Pride coming back to South Orange. Sterling Gibbs making a case for Big East Player of the Year.

    And now the dream is on life support.

    The Pirates have lost five of their last seven and are sixth in the Big East following a 57-54 loss to Marquette Saturday at the Prudential Center. Their NCAA Tournament dream now looks more like a ticket to the NIT.

    Seton Hall’s success in the beginning of the season was predicated on ball movement. The team had 18 assists in the then-upset over then-ranked St. John’s. In the last two contests against DePaul, both deflating losses, the Hall had a combined 11 assists. Against Marquette, they had 11.

    “We’re having to work for every half court,” head coach Kevin Willard said.  “We have to get back trying to create a little more tempo.”

    There’s no cohesion on offense, no flow. Too many isolation plays. On defense, Marquette had a way too easy time of getting into the lane, getting to the charity stripe 22 times and outscoring the Hall 42-22 in the paint. Marquette shot 46.8 percent from the floor, while Seton Hall shot just 30.5.

    The only reason the Hall had a chance was because of Jaren Sina’s four 3-pointers. But too often, there wasn’t a concentrated effort on getting the ball to him. Too much one-on-one by Isaiah Whitehead, who scored three points, and who wasn’t on the floor when Seton Hall made a late comeback. Willard went with Desi Rodriguez, who played the last few minutes with four fouls.

    “We got stuck at times,” Willard said. “We have to get back to getting to the third, fourth option offensively. Everyone’s trying to make a play off the first option.”

    Making matters worse, Marquette’s leading scorer, Matt Carlino, missed the game with a concussion. But here’s the rub: Even without Carlino, who averages 14.5 points a game, the Eagles moved the ball really well, cut decisively on offense and utilized screens well. Jajuan Johnson, who replaced Carlino in the lineup, was impressive, finishing with 14.

    “We got happy,” Brandon Mobley said.  “Once we got ranked, we got happy. We lost our defensive intensity that we had at the start. When we lose, ‘you’re not passing the ball, you’re not doing this, you’re not doing that.’ At the beginning, nobody cared who shot the ball. Nobody cared who scored. We [were] winning, everyone was happy. When we lose, everyone points fingers. Until 13 guys are on board and care about winning and nothing else, that’s gonna keep happening.”

    There’s a distinct pattern with this Hall team. At their best, their ball movement is exceptional. They play aggressive, committed defense. They make the extra pass and get out in transition. At their worst, the Hall plays a one-dimensional brand of basketball, too concerned with the shake-and-bake at the top of the key than making the extra pass and getting a better look.

    When that happens, shots don’t fall. Khadeen Carrington and Whitehead combined for a disastrous 3-19 from the floor.

    Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently has the Hall as a No. 9 seed in the tournament in his latest edition of Bracketology. Six Big East teams are projected to make the lineup, with St. John’s on the bubble. Ken Pomeroy has Seton Hall ranked 49th, while the Johnnies are ranked 41st.

    What made Seton Hall’s back-to-back upsets over Villanova and St. John’s so exciting was not just the quality of opponents. It was the way in which they beat them. The passion and heady play of Gibbs. The tenacious rebounding of Angel Delgado. The fearlessness of CarringtonThe players are the same. The result is just drastically different.

    One possession in particular illustrated the Hall’s poor offensive tendencies. Early in the second half, after a number of Delgado offensive rebounds to extend the play, the Hall had a chance to make a dent in their deficit, down four at the time. Instead of looking for what could’ve been a momentum-changing three in the corner by Sina, Gibbs went one-on-three to try to drive to the basket. Miss. Rebound Marquette. Bucket on the other end by Johnson.

    “When the ball is swinging and moving and popping, you’re going to win the game,” Sina said. “You can’t wait till the end to play like that.”

    Still on the schedule are two games against Georgetown. Two against Providence.  A trip to Villanova. A trip to St. John’s. Other than the Creighton game at the end of February, there is no easy game remaining.

    “If I could trade the championship from the Virgin Islands to have the success we had then now, I would,” Mobley said.

    The Hall did show some fight in them, led by six points from Gibbs in the final few minutes. They brought it to within one with 18 seconds left in the game. On their last three possessions, though, there was a Gibbs turnover and three missed threes, one from Gibbs and two from Sina.  Too little, too late.

    Seton Hall has always been a young team. It looked like next year would be the year to make some noise. Then the upsets happened, and the future sped up its timeline. Now things look to be returning to the mean.

    Are they NIT-bound now? Too early to tell. Time remains to pick up some quality wins and to ensure a tournament berth.

    But what had started out as memorable has the potential to be devastating.

    “When we’re winning everyone wants to listen,” Mobley said. “When we’re losing everyone has the answers.That’s what happens when you have all the answers. Certain people’s attitudes is not where it needs to be.”

    Mobley continued, issuing a challenge to his teammates.

    “Winning is not on everybody’s mind right now,” he said. Everyone’s focused on things besides winning. It’s up to the guys if they want to play the season out or play with a purpose.”

    Photo: USA Today Sports

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, 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.