Pirates earn first win at UConn since 1997
(PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID BUTLER II/POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
Back in October, journalists took Pirates head coach Kevin Willard's comments literally about the University of Connecticut returning to the Big East Conference. Let's be real, folks. Yes, it's not a great thing, recruiting wise for most programs including the aforementioned Seton Hall Pirates, St. John's, Providence, Georgetown, and even Villanova. But the rivalry that gets renewed from the Huskies returning? Bar none.
We saw that today as Willard earned win #201, as the Seton Hall Pirates earned its second straight victory in its trek south on the Connecticut Turnpike, against Seton Hall alum, Danny Hurley and his Huskies on Saturday afternoon.
The Pirates were able to get things going with a 13-2 start just four minutes in, thanks in large part to Myles Cale's pair of triples. The double-digit lead continued as Seton Hall hit eight straight shots on the offensive end. Back to back triples just 12 minutes into the game by Tyrese Samuel, allowed the Pirates to extend its lead to as much as 18.
Dan Hurley and his Huskies said not so fast, as the 10 day lay-off due to COVID-19 issues, seemed to have plagued the Huskies from starting off hot. Seton Hall took advantage, but the Huskies would close the half on an 11-2 run to narrow the oppositions' lead to just nine.
A trio of runs for the home team took the Pirates breath away, as a 15-2 run stunted the momentum of Seton Hall, before like of Cale, Mamukelashvili, Rhoden, and Aiken all took over, From free-throws, triples, and a pair of foul calls, the Huskies never seemed to go away. Even with a four-point lead, the Pirates continued to fight back and continue to extend its lead with Bryce Aiken trying to put the game on ice, but it was Shavar Reynolds, who did just that and extended the lead back to six.
The Pirates earned its second win in as many games, following three consecutive defeats, that had the Pirates teetering the NCAA Tournament conversation. The seniors led the charge as Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvili combined for 42 points. The latter, led the team with 22 points, 10 of which, came from the free-throw line in 12 total attempts.
Here are the five takeaways from the statement victory in Storrs:
1. Renewed Rivalry Game #1 - Complete
When it was announced that the University of Connecticut would be returning home, it sparked many emotions. One of which, being that the fans are in for some "what is old, becomes new again." That's exactly what we got to see this afternoon in the Pirates' first trip to Gampel Pavilion since 2010, and the first meeting between UConn since 2013.
Keep in mind, Danny Hurley's alma-mater is Seton Hall, and he also grew up there. Remember the name Bobby Hurley, Sr? Legendary head coach at the former Patrick School? All in the family. We saw grittiness. We saw the best defensive team in the Big East have some issues with Kevin Willard's team early on, but then fell back into reality late in the first half. Quality basketball for both squads, and we expect this old rivalry, to heat up even more in less than a month on March 3 inside the Prudential Center.
2. Kevin Willard - Win #201
The third head coach to accomplish a rare feat as a Seton Hall Pirates head coach, Kevin Willard continued to go about his winning ways, as the Pirates have made it an annual February issue, where they are on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament brackets from the "experts". Granted, that trio of losses to No. 3 Villanova, No. 17 Creighton, and No. 3 Villanova, are justified. Why? Because they're all ranked! But if this team, who has been stunningly porous on the defensive end, wants to earn another March Madness bid, things needed to change. Exhibit A and B. The previous two games.
"I think I understand where we are, I don't lose it as much as I used to and I have a much better understanding of what we need to do." commented Willard. "I've realized that you can't lose sight of what we've worked on, where we've been, where we need to go."
But what did they accomplish heading into two must-win victories this week? Which, they accomplished by the way: “I think the biggest thing is we just wanted to get back to being a little bit more aggressive on both ends of the floor, and again, we weren’t in panic mode." said Willard. "We lost to the No. 3 team in the country twice and the No. 11 team in the country twice within a two-week span, so we kind of understood we had some good opportunities against those teams, we didn’t finish because I thought we weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be, and I thought we came out really aggressive on both ends and just got back to being a little bit more aggressive on the defensive end.”
Coming into the contest against the Huskies, the Pirates are ranked last in the Big East in three-point defense, averaging an allowed 38.1%. Meanwhile, Seton Hall is ranked seventh out of 11 teams by averaging 43.7% allowed from the field against the opposition.
3. "Won't Back Down"
When the Huskies continued to make pushes, and show what they were made of off the finger-tips of Jalen Gaffney, all eight players that entered the court for Seton Hall, all tallied timely buckets, when their backs were against the wall. In the second half, the Pirates tallied 11-of-19 from the field, and stayed red hot on the charity stripe, by converting 16-of-18 in the second stanza, alone. Myles Cale is a big reason for this. This contest marks Cale's fifth consecutive game in double-digits. Can't discredit the senior on the backend when it matters the most too.
"I think I definitely stepped it up on the defensive end." said Cale. "I was watching some film, and I think I can do a lot more against my opponents. Do what I can do, and try to help my teammates and lead the way on the defensive end."
4. Eight Day Break Upcoming: Cause for Concern?
We shouldn't be concerned at all, because the Pirates are now in a groove, but can they keep it up with eight days rest. Kevin Willard had brought up in the beginning of the season how five games in less than three weeks (Wagner 12/8 - Georgetown 12/23), may be an area where lack of fuel in the tank could glow. Willard also brought up this upcoming break, that could be beneficial to his team. As Seton Hall has just found its stride once again, could we see a sluggish start in eight days? Too soon to tell.
5. "This is ONLY February" - Jon Rothstein
The Pirates have three quadrant one victories on the season. Let's face it, would they have it without Mamu and a FULL team effort? Doubtful. The games graduate guard Bryce Aiken has partaken in, have been stellar for the Harvard alum.
The final five games comes against Marquette, DePaul, Georgetown, Connecticut, and a streaking St. John's team. The next time Seton Hall faces the Huskies, expect to see their leading scorer, James Bouknight, who has been out since early January after undergoing elbow surgery. All of the contributions need to stick around in February. They're in the conversation for March, no doubt. But keep on winning? We'll see a sixth straight appearance in due time.
Seton Hall welcomes Marquette on Valentines Day (Sunday, February 14) for a 3 p.m. start inside the Prudential Center. The game can be seen on FS1.