(PHOTO COURTESY OF OMAHA WORLD HERALD)
Full team efforts consist of teams playing to its entirety throughout 40 minutes of game-time on the Prudential Center hardwood, or really anywhere for that matter. No. 17 Creighton Blue Jays, erased a 16-point lead that was once held by the Seton Hall Pirates, and came away with the 85-81 victory inside the Prudential Center on Wednesday evening.
The Pirates played its first home game in 25 days, and the second game in 17 days. The last game, came against No. 3 Villanova inside the Finneran Pavillion on January 19. The next scheduled game was supposed to be at Butler on Friday, January 22, but was postponed due to COVID-19 related issues within the Bulldogs program.
Seton Hall came out swinging, as they were able to net 54 points in the first 20 minutes of the contest. Both programs combined for 17 three-pointers in the first half, with a pair of triples coming in the final 10 seconds alone. Pirates' Myles Cale, and the Blue Jays' Marcus Zegarowski. The former hit three consecutive three pointers, and put the Pirates on a 9-0 run by himself.
Graduate transfer Bryce Aiken, who came in with a total of 23 points in a Pirates uniform due to injury, netted 21 on the evening, but some questionable decisions by head coach Kevin Willard, had many wondering why the hot hand of Aiken, was not on the court in the final three minutes and change. “BA has a minutes restriction a little bit still." said Willard. "He played great and he’s looking great, he’s been playing great in practice, but again, long stretches of time, he can’t play eight, nine minutes in a row. I thought it was really great having him out there. Him being aggressive really kind of, I thought, changed the tempo of the game for us, so I’m really excited about where he is.”
The issue, was keeping the momentum heading into the second half, where the Pirates usually excel. Tonight, was the opposite.
The second half saw a 27 point performance, while Greg McDermott's Blue Jays were able to net home 41, and end the contest on a 14-2 run, as well as converting the final three shots from the field.
Here are my five thoughts following the stunning loss to the Blue Jays:
1. Mitch Ballock. One Man Wrecking Crew:
For the Pirates, they were unable to handle senior guard Mitch Ballock. Plain and Simple. Kevin Willard acknowledged the fact following the game. "When (Mitch) Ballock’s going the way he is, he’s just a tough cover." said Willard. "He made a couple of tough ones in the first half, and then when he gets going, they do a great job of just looking for him." Ballock led the team with 29 points in total, but tallied 16 in the final stanza. Seven-of-12 came from the distance, and the senior even helped out with four helpers as well in 37 minutes on the hardwood. Ballock also sent home the game-winning trey with :41 seconds remaining in the game.
2. Pirates let 16-point lead get erased:
Michael Nzei, Ismael Sanogo, and Angel Delgado, are three names that stick out to me when it comes to team defense, and defense becoming second nature to the aforementioned three. This season particularly, and tonight as well, showed that team defense is not where it should be. Myles Cale said in the post-game press conference that "elite teams do not do this." The comment raised a few eye brows on the Zoom, and Kevin Willard took the blame in full for the stunning events that occurred. "I just kind of said we’ve got to get better defensively, we’ve got to kind of get a better defensive mindset. I pretty much took all the blame, I kind of said, ‘You know, we’re not very good defensively, and that’s on me.’ We’ve been a top 20 defensive team the last seven years, I don’t even think we’re in the top...we might not even be Division I right now, so what I said to them, pretty much, was we’ve got to figure out how to get stops when the game’s on the line."
The Pirates were outscored by the Blue Jays 33-13 over the final 10:38 in the game. Multiple runs from Creighton, including a 14-4 run, allowed the Blue Jays to creep within six, and then move within three, as the shooting from the road team began to heat up at the right time.
3. Premature to say Bryce Aiken is back?
If tonight told the whole story, we'd say that Bryce Aiken is back. For those that are just joining us for the first time this season, the leading scorer for the Pirates tonight, scored a total of 23 points heading into the contest tonight. The Harvard graduate transfer has missed a total of seven games including the DePaul contest on January 9 with an injury. When Aiken went tonight, the pedal was to the medal for the Pirates. Aiken grabbed four boards, and converted seven-of-10 from the field, including one 35-footer from near the Pirates logo at half-court. Aiken only played 17 minutes, which has been overlooked the entire night AND on a minutes restriction. Let that sink in. This is also a player who is supposed to step into the shoes of the ones Myles Powell wore for four years. Not that easy, and not there....yet.
4. Primary/Secondary scoring comes up short for the Pirates:
It took me a few minutes to feel okay about hitting send on this piece with the fourth takeaway being a very "questionable" title. I say secondary because tonight, senior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili tallied 11 points on four-of-nine shooting. He also grabbed six rebounds with his mother in the crowd. We remember last year when his father saw Sandro hit the game-winning bucket in the near corner against Butler inside a raucous Prudential Center? Unfortunately for his mom, fortunes weren't aligned, but she has another chance on Saturday. Myles Cale tallied 20 total points on eight-of-12 shooting, and was one rebound away from a double-double. And Jared Rhoden added 13 points to the scoresheet, with six of those coming from the stripe, in as many tries.
To better the takeaway, not one Pirate player, was able to eclipse the double-digit mark in the second half, as Aiken was the highest scorer with just nine. The Pirates converted only 10 shots on 30 tries from the field. The Blue Jays were able to secure the perimeter, as they held the Pirates to just two threes, in 13 tries.
5. Villanova on Saturday
Remember the game the day before the Presidential Inauguration? The one where the Pirates were playing catch up with the Wildcats, and erased a nine-point 'Nova lead? And then fell by a mere bucket. Yes, that game. We all saw how Creighton woke up on the perimeter in the final 10 minutes of the contest. That is what propelled the No. 17 team in the land. Problem is, is that the Pirates were unable to hold the Blue Jays following the road team's ability to pull away from its 1-of-12 shooting performance out of the locker room. Villanova? The Wildcats know what it takes to win, and we saw it last Tuesday. Coming into the Prudential Center for a 3:30 p.m. tip on national television (mind you) on FOX, is no easy task for Kevin Willard and company, who will look to have a short memory of the "sure" victory over a ranked opponent.