-Welcome back, Bigg Game, Jeremy Hazell. Jeremy hit two of his first three 3-pointers he attempted and looked as if he didn't miss a beat, despite playing his last game on November 19th. Jeremy averaged 24PPG coming in to tonight and like clockwork, dropped 23 tonight, leading his Pirates to a comfortable victory. He shot 10-of-17 from the floor, including 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. He added 2AST/2STL/REB while turning the ball over just once.
With Jeremy back, the Pirates played as a cohesive style of basketball, entirely different from anything we've seen since late November. With Hazell back as the number one option, it will allow players to settle back into their roles. Specifically, Pope and Robinson will hopefully stay in the post and away from the perimeter, as Seton Hall's lone consistent 3-point shooter is back to satisfy that role. Jeff Robinson only attempted 1-3PT attempt, so hopefully, Hazell's return has forced Willard's hand in keeping his big men where they belong, on the block. Surprisingly, many of Jeremy's 24PTS came near the basket as his teammates found him on fast breaks and cutting along the baseline for layup finishes.
After the first timeout was called with Hazell on the floor, he had his teammates huddled and was leading them with instruction, in a very similar fashion to what we saw during his tenure injured on the bench. Yes, his return to the hardwood has put an end to the possibility of him redshirting the season and returning for a fifth year in Pirate blue. Sure, it's not what the stubborn Seton Hall fan was wishing for, but man, we've at least got a semblance of exciting basketball to enjoy the rest of the way. And oh yeah, playing this season was entirely Jeremy's decision. Who can blame the kid? He's on the verge of becoming a 25-year old rookie next year (if drafted) and there's going to be a time where he decides that it's time to start collecting a paycheck. By playing tonight, he and his family have decided, next year is that time. I believe I speak fairly confidently for the entire Seton Hall community by saying, Damn. We're going to miss watching the kid play.
-Jordan Theodore turned in a bit of a bounce-back performance after putting up duds in the Pirates' last three contests. JT played 27 minutes, but much of it was spent off the ball as Keon Lawrence's role as the lead PG continues to emerge for Seton Hall. Theodore finished with 10PTS on 3-of-5 shooting while adding 2REB/4AST and 2TO. Giving Keon Lawrence an extended opportunity at the lead-point looks to be Willard's way of keeping the ball and decision making, out of JT's hands as he continues to play through his recent struggles. Keon Lawrence played 30 minutes and was active on the glass, leading all players with 8REB. Keon made 3-of-7 from the floor including a masterful drive, spin move and finish to end the game with 8PTS and 4AST. Lawrence's play wasn't entirely positive as the increase in PG minutes resulted in Keon giving up the ball 4-times, a number that needs to improve whether JT or Keon is running the point.
-With Jeremy back in the fold, Fuquan came back down to earth a bit as he only took 7 shots tonight, hitting 3 of them for a stat line of: 6PTS/4REB.
-Following monster doble-doubles against Syracuse, Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson found themselves in foul trouble for much of the night, yet still managed to make an impact against an undersized DePaul front-line. Pope turned in 15PTS/6REB/5AST/2BLK before fouling out with nearly 8 minutes left on the clock. Personally, I thought Pope should have been out of the game with a double-digit lead and a ton of time left on the clock, but I understand Willard's thinking. He wanted to use his big man to finish off the Blue Demons by putting the proverbial foot on the opponents throat, yet the situation didn't work out to Willard's liking. Fortunately for the Pirates, even with Pope out of the game, DePaul struggled to go on much of a run and the Pirates cruised to a comfortable victory.
-Jeff Robinson deactivated his green-light tonight by taking just 3 shot attempts and making them all. In 26 minutes of action, Robinson also ripped down 6REB, preventing the Blue Demons from easy second opportunities.
-DePaul's Cleveland Melvin, a one time Seton Hall recruit, was absolutely terrible in the first half hitting just 3-of-14 attempts. He played much better in the second frame, hitting 5-of-7 attempts. He finished his night with 21PTS/9REB.
-The Pirates outshot the Blue Demons, dominated the boards and compiled more assists than their opponent tonight. Despite turning the ball over at a greater clip, they did enough to get the job done. Full box score, here.
-Jeremy's return sparked an excitement around the program that we haven't seen in months. Although this team is extremely unlikely to make the NCAA tournament (save a BET outright win), Hazell's already done enough to ensure that Pirates fans will be able to enjoy exciting basketball the rest of the way. Welcome back, Bigg Game. It feels great to see you back in the Blue and White.