Jazz's Thoughts: Pirates hold off Butler in nail-biting victory
PHOTO COURTESY OF BOB DEA/DALY DOSE OF HOOPS
Remember last year's buzzer-beating victory inside Prudential Center against Butler off the finger tips of Sandro Mamukelashvili? Crowd went bongos. Yes. What is it against Lavall Jordan's Bulldogs that makes us bite our nails down to the core.
Enter 2021. It happened again.
If you started watching the Seton Hall Pirates (8-4, 5-1) just this past Wednesday, you wouldn't have known that they've had some issues with first half starts. The Xavier contest the other evening, told us otherwise due to their end-to-end strong team victory, but a 21-5 run by Kevin Willard and his Pirate squad against the Butler Bulldogs (2-5, 1-3), showed us that one quick adjustment, can make all the difference.
Getting off to a quick start were the Bulldogs, who were led by freshman guard Myles Tate, and Chuck Harris. For the Pirates on the defensive front, Ike Obiagu recorded a pair of blocks early on. Senior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili was the facilitator as he led the Pirates with 13 first half points, and shot five-of-eight from the field. He also added five assists to the scoresheet in the midst as well.
“I think he’s really growing into this role nicely." Commented Willard. "There’s times where he gets a little ahead of himself, but you’re gonna see him take another jump this season. I think he’s the best player in the country, and you’ll see that as the year goes on.”
Mamukelashvili led the team in its efforts to power a comeback, as the Pirates trailed by a game-high seven to the Bulldogs midway through the first half. Seton Hall tallied eight consecutive points to tie the game at 20, and then 23. The Bulldogs, in the sequence, were shooting one-of-seven, as no one other than freshman sensation Myles Tate was able to knock anything home.
While concluding the first half, the Pirates did not allow more than five points in a span of nine minutes. A slew of Pirates named Myles Cale, Shavar Reynolds, Jared Rhoden, Ike Obiagu, and plenty more, provided a team effort to mount its comeback, and more as they went into the locker room ahead by nine.
In the second half, the Bulldogs would flip the script, known to the Pirates, as a second half closing team. Not today, until 2:26 remaining in regulation, when Myles Cale tallied a raucous triple that once again, put Seton Hall ahead by five. Butler did not go away until the final buzzer, where they continued to close the Hall's lead to as little as one on numerous occasions.
"Let's play like veterans." said Shavar Reynolds, Jr. in the huddle as per Mamukelashvili, who said Reynolds, the former walk-on, took over the huddle when the team was hanging on to its once double-digit lead.
All of this coming without the likes of leading scorer Aaron Thompson, who has missed the previous five consecutive games with an injury. As well as JaKobe Coles, who was plagued with an injury a few days ago.
From the contest this afternoon, here are my five thoughts on Seton Hall's victory:
1. Kevin Willard adjusting once again
Down as much as seven (20-13) in the first half, Pirates head coach Kevin Willard made some adjustments (to no one's surprise), and put his experience to work. Multiple runs that included an 8-0, and 6-0 run, that would eventually lead to a 21-5 run, told the story of the Pirates in the first half. This run sparked a nine point advantage heading into the locker room. In the contest, the Bulldogs also converted 11-for-22 from the perimeter, which gave the Pirates a problem throughout the game.
2. "You can't go? Okay, now you're up!"
Missing his fifth straight game for Butler, was Aaron Thompson. There is no doubt in anyones mind that any inkling of points from Thompson if he were to play, could've or would've made a difference on the scoresheet. But the next man up mentality stepped in, as Chuck Harris and Myles Tate combined for 33 points in the contest. Senior guard Jair Bolden contributed 10 points, and a pair from the charity stripe in 33 minutes on the hardwood.
3. It's Not Unusual....for a second half slow down?
Slowing down in the second half is not what Kevin Willard's Seton Hall teams are used to. It's usually the other way around, and for those that read above, know what I'm talking about. For 14 minutes in the second stanza, the lone pair of scorers for the Pirates, were Sandro Mamukelashvili, and Jared Rhoden. At the 6:31 mark, Shavar Reynolds, Jr.'s triple, were the first points from someone not named Mamukelashvili or Rhoden. Something we didn't see in the contest on Wednesday inside Cintas Center against Xavier.
SECOND HALF SHOOTING - Seton Hall converted nine-of-23 from the field in the second half, following a 52% field-goal shooting performance in the first half (13-for-25).
4. Charity Stripe Dreaming
The Pirates converted 17-of-20 from the free-throw line, which converted to 85% in the contest. The three misses came from Rhoden, Cale, and Mamukelashvili who missed one a piece. Kevin Willard said of the team's free throw shooting: “I think they’ve taken a jump in percentage because they’re all out there getting opportunities. They’re more comfortable at the line, and when you’re comfortable, you’re gonna make more.” Against Xavier, the Pirates converted 14-of-14 from the line as well.
Follow up from #4 - Jared Rhoden said that he and his teammates have been staying later after practice to shoot free throws.
5. BIG EAST Dominance
Seton Hall has now improved to 5-1 in conference play, and now sits alone in second place just behind the likes of Villanova. The Pirates have now been victorious in seven of its last eight contests, that dates back to the contest against Iona, and the first game inside Prudential Center this 2020-21 season. A note from NJ.com's Jerry Carino, and the Seton Hall Athletic Communications department, the Pirates have now started BIG EAST play 5-1 or better for the fourth time in program history (1992-93, 1999-00, 2019-20).
The Pirates now head on the road for a Wednesday, January 6 matchup rumble against Creighton. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST on FS1.
Next Saturday, January 9, they square off inside Wintrust Arena in Chicago, as they visit DePaul, whose contest was postponed this afternoon against St. John's, due to COVID-19 related issue within the Red Storm program. Tipoff for the second of two on the road, is slated for 2 p.m. EST on FS1.