All losses are rough to some degree, but this one may not be as rough as it seems.
Yes, Seton Hall got a career-night from Herb Pope and still lost the game. Yes, they had a very real chance to win it after a run in the second half that was nothing short of amazing and couldn't close.
But let's be honest here- was anyone (even SHU fans) expecting much more than a 2-1 showing in Charleston after the St. Francis game?
Here are the 5 Thoughts from an entertaining championship game, one in which poor shot selection down the stretch by Seton Hall was the difference:
- A Papal Performance
What Herb Pope did in this game has to be mentioned first and foremost before we get into anything else. A career-high 32 PTS and 9 REB, 2 BLK and 2 STL to boot (barely missing his 4th straight double-double to start the season) on a remarkable 14-17 from the floor with two threes. I doubt he's ever had a better game in any setting.
Pope took full advantage of Northwestern's lack of post presence and seemed to do whatever he wanted down low. He was the only player who did much of anything in the first half, keeping the game close enough for the Pirates to make a serious run at winning. He's playing like a first team All-Big East player right now, and anyone that disputes that even slightly is out of their mind.
- Through the Back Door
Back to the game itself, the Pirates were either not prepared (unlikely in this guy's opinion) or just got beaten repeatedly (more likely) by the veteran Wildcats' backdoor cutting for easy layups. It was, as my colleague put it last night, a clinic in the Princeton offense for Seton Hall. Not only that, but when the Wildcats weren't laying it in, Drew Crawford (who was named the tournament MVP) was hitting everything from the outside. Northwestern busted the Pirates' defense to the tune of 61% shooting in the first half. That's a combination of a thinking man's offense being run by a veteran team, and a young team being caught in the trap. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Through the Front Door
As they had in the two previous Charleston games, the Pirates took control after halftime. They went on a 6-0 run (which included two Pope baskets, one on a steal and transition layup) that got the team back in it.
Then, after Northwestern counterpunched in a big way, taking a 13-point lead, Willard took a timeout. Whatever he said in that huddle must have been Braveheart-like because after that, Seton Hall busted through the front door, going on a 15-0 run to take the lead. There were threes made, there were consistent stops on defense for the first time all game, and in general the best basketball I've seen in a long time from this team as a unit.
I'm thinking of referring to this team as the "Swanson Pirates," because the offense is quite literally microwaveable, able to get white-hot at seemingly any moment. They heated up at the right time vs the Wildcats to make the game a close one until about a minute remaining.
- Supporting Cast
Haralds Karlis (6 PTS, 2-2 3PM) and Aaron Cosby (9 PTS, 3-7 3PM) did their respective parts providing scoring from the wing positions and nailing some threes. Fuquan Edwin also registered 10 PTS and 6 REB on efficient percentages.
Patrik Auda, meanwhile, remained in his funk. The last two games, the ejection and foul trouble, respectively, held him back. This time he just did not play well. Four out of his five REB came in the first 5 minutes of the game, when the Pirates hung right with the Wildcats as they controlled the boards, but that was Auda's only contribution last night. I thought his passing ability would get him a breakout game vs Northwestern, but he made a lot of mistakes on both ends.
Don't set off the alarms just yet, guys. This is still a player with more confidence than last year, as we saw before he was ejected against VCU. Players have bad games sometimes. Look for a bounce-back performance sooner rather than later.
- Looking Ahead
Going 2-1 in Charleston was probably the most anyone could have asked for given how opening night went. You could see Karlis and Cosby gaining confidence with each game, and Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope in particular opened some eyes around the college basketball interwebs. Now the Pirates don't travel again until they play Dayton in Ohio on December 21st, something Coach Willard has said that he likes about this year's schedule. Included in that are games that they should win. In fact, they'll probably be favored in all of them. That will give Auda a chance to regain confidence and for Cosby and Karlis to continue to make strides.
This team showed that it is a) in very good hands, and b) capable of hanging in with tough teams because of that. The coaching this past weekend was stellar on all fronts. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic right now in Pirateland, and that one, in my opinion, is the biggest one.