Much unlike Seton Hall's story this season, the Marquette Golden Eagles needed a win tonight and they found a way to seal the deal. From the opening tip they fought for loose balls, ripped offensive rebounds and outplayed their opponent in nearly every aspect of the game (sans TOs), en route to a 73-64 victory on Saturday night. Against Villanova, the Pirates turned their opponent over 22 times, yet couldn't shoot the ball for a lick, giving the game to the Wildcats. Against the Eagles, the Pirates once again won the turnover battle (14-9) and even shot nearly 46%, yet the end result has become all too consistent this season, another notch in the loss column.
Last week against Rutgers, Kevin Willard gave Eniel Polynice the starting nod in the lineup and EP provided a nice spark, contributing a well-balanced effort as Jordan Theodore exploded for 18/6 in his new found bench role. Against Villanova, Polynice added little, while Theodore again contributed double-digits (10) off of the bench. After sitting JT for two games too long, I was convinced Theodore would rightfully take the starting job back tonight in Wisconsin. I was wrong as Polynice once again appeared in the starting five against the Golden Eagles. He quickly started the game off with a careless turnover, one of four on the night.
Despite dropping 9PTS/5AST/2REB/2STL/2BLK in 28 minutes, Polynice's handle is much too sloppy to be handling the ball that often in his new role. In the first ten minutes of the game, when both JT and Polynice were on the floor, Theodore was playing off the ball as Eniel led the offense. That's just absurd. The team has one true point guard on the roster and he's playing the #2? Color me confused. I get that Willard wanted to send a message to Theodore after too many games of inconsistent play. Of course, it was masked with comments after the Rutgers game that JT was only sitting due to limited practice following a concussion against UConn. One game is fine, but c'mon, it's time to end the experiment now.
Theodore is the better ball handler, floor general, point-guard, decision maker, you name it. He's also the starting point-guard next year, so why is his confidence being shaken in a bench role? To what benefit does Polynice handling and running the offense give the Pirates in the short and long term? Don't get me wrong, I think he's certainly a role player on a BIG EAST squad, and is now forced to play some PG with a depleted roster, but I believe you've got to play your best players in the roles that best suit their game. Theodore was unable to find his form all night and as I mentioned, I believe his confidence is now being affected. On the night he finished with just 2PTS/6AST/2REB/2STL/3TO. Despite the poor performance, I'd look for him to find his way back into the starting lineup next Saturday at Notre Dame.
Where was Herb Pope last night? Despite scoring the first two buckets for Seton Hall, he picked up his second foul with almost 14 minutes left in the half and hit the pine for the remainder of the period. Generally when Pope has picked up an early two this season, Willard has rolled the dice and gambled with his big man for a few minutes here and there. I'm not sure why Coach decided against it tonight, but Pope hit the bench after logging just 6 minutes. Conserving him and his fouls for the second half didn't exactly pay off as Herb ended up fouling out after just 15 total minutes. It was one of the most disappointing performances he's had in a Pirate uniform turning in just 6PTS/2REB as Seton Hall was forced to abandon their inside game for much of the night.
Much of this game was determined by the bench play. The Eagles reserves added 30PTS, while the Pirates backups were accountable for just 7. Outside of Jeff Robinson (11PTS), the only other Pirate to score in double-figures was Jeremy Hazell with 23 on 8-of-18 shooting. Hazell can be counted on for 20 a game, but when only one other Pirate is scoring in double-figures, they'll all too often wind up on the wrong end of the box score. Which leads me to my next point, who is going to score for the Pirates next season? Pope? What if he doesn't return?
Follow the jump for continued analysis of Seton Hall's loss at Marquette.
Down 8 points with 13 minutes remaining, Willard used a full timeout that preceded a 7-2 Seton Hall run to pull within one possession at the under 12 minute timeout. For two teams that have had trouble closing games all season, Marquette was able to do the job as it was evident they wanted this one a bit more than their counterparts. In a two minute span, the Eagles were able to step the line 8 times, knocking down 7 freebies on way to a 12-2 run of their own.
A glaring problem all season has been the Pirates inability to shoot their way out of a second half scoring drought. Despite shooting the rock well tonight, tonight was far from an exception. The drought came and the Pirates were only able to hit two field goals over a 7 minute span late in the second half. The misses, coupled with Pope fouling out at 6:47, allowed the Eagles to open up a double-digit cushion which they didn't relinquish until this one was out of reach.
It was simply another game and another performance that saw the Pirates play well for spurts, but as we've learned this season, spurts aren't good enough. If they don't learn to fight through a second half run and don't learn to shoot their way out of a drought, they aren't going to win many contests that are close in the waning minutes. With just three games remaining before the BIG EAST Tournament, the Hall's season from Hell will soon be over. Although that may be enjoyable in it's own right, the Pirates need to start learning from these experiences. Soon enough, they'll begin preparing for next season and for the players who will be returning, I sincerely hope they're beginning to hate this feeling. For if they don't, we the fans will be unfortunate enough to watch more of this basketball come November.