Pitino, Gaels Threaten Pirates but strong second half decides fate for Seton Hall
Welcome to New York, Rick Pitino.
The seventh overall meeting between Seton Hall Pirates head coach Kevin Willard and Iona Gaels head coach Rick Pitino was must-see television, as the former has never beaten the latter. Until tonight. The significance? Willard began his career as Pitino's assistant, then associate head coach at the University of Louisville from 2001 to 2007.
The Gaels would put a scare into the Hall, but were unable to show up in the second half, as Willard made adjustments like no-other, that saw a 51-27 second half score. The final inside the Prudential Center ended up being 86-64, following a halftime deficit. Both teams have come into contact with COVID-19 and have been forced to shut down their respective program's for two weeks.
"I'm not pissed off that I lost, because I love Kevin [Willard]" commented Pitino. "If Kevin wasn't the coach, I'd probably want to go out and drink a quart of scotch."
May want to after seeing the results of the second half, and the performance of junior guard and Baldwin, NY native Jared Rhoden, and Big East all-preseason first teamer Sandro Mamukelashvili, were too much for the Gaels to handle in the second half.
It was a double-double for the junior guard, as he tallied 26 points. Grabbed 10 rebounds, and coverted 7-of-14 from the field. Rhoden would also add nine-of-10 from the charity stripe. His head coach thought he should've had this type of performance in its season opener at Louisville.
The second half the first stanza would be one to forget for Kevin Willard and the Pirates, as sophomore forward Tyrese Samuel would register seven unanswered before Iona responded back with a 12-1 run to eventually conclude the first half ahead 37-35. Thanks in large part to guards Isaiah Ross, and Tahlik Chavez. The next three-points in the sequence would come off the finger-tips of guard Ryan Myers.
"They're exactly what I thought they were going to be. They play hard, and they're going to win a lot of games." said Willard in response to the first half woes from his squad.
However, the Pirates would fight back in the second half, as Mamu would help lead the charge and add an additional 18 points and grab seven boards in 35 minutes on the hardwood.
Kevin Willard continued his journey along the Seton Hall Pirates basketball program's Mount Rushmore, as this victory, gives Willard his 191st for the Pirates. He now ties former coach Frank Hill for third place in program history. Two legends to have led the Pirates in P.J. Carlesimo (212), and Honey Russell (294) are ahead.
The Pirates will also be without Harvard graduate transfer Bryce Aiken with an "badly" sprained ankle for "at least" two weeks. Aiken, has had a rough injury history during his time in the Ivy League. This does not bode well for the history, and the need for his presence in the Seton Hall lineup, and bench.
The Pirates will be playing four games in four different states this week. The trek across the United States begins on Wednesday, with a trip to the University of Rhode Island for a 7 PM (EST) tipoff. Followed by a new addition to the schedule with the University of Oregon in Omaha, NE, on Friday night starting at 9 PM (EST).
"I think Rhode Island, Oregon, Penn State, and Wagner, it gives us more opportunities that are a similar style to teams we're playing early in Big East play. said Willard regarding the rough non-conference schedule.