Over the course of the season, some losses sting especially hard, while some leave you with a drop in the pit of your stomach. Tonight was surely the latter. #24 Seton Hall (15-3, 4-2) fell to South Florida, 55-54 in front of a sparse crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. This is likely the last recap I will write with, "#X" in front of the words, 'Seton Hall,' for quite some time. That's the sad reality. The Pirates certainly didn't play to the level you'd expect to see out of a Top-25 team. For as wrong as the coaches were for leaving the Pirates out of the ESPN/USA Today Poll, well, the team did them no favors and they've now got the last laugh.
Leading by 8 points with 9 minutes remaining, USF rallied off a 16-6 run that saw Seton Hall go ice cold from the floor (2-of-10), while the Bulls were able to execute offensively in the closing minutes. Still, after a missed Jawanza Poland free throw with 0:21 remaining, the Pirates would have another chance. Kevin Willard decided to let them play instead of using a timeout to draw up a play. Theodore nearly found Pope under the basket, but USF swatted the pass attempt out of bounds with 6 seconds remaining. Willard then used a timeout and drew up a play for Theodore. After the inbounds pass, JT was foolishly fouled by Anthony Collins as he was wrapping around traffic trying to find a lane. At least, we thought it was foolish at the time. Instead of forcing Theodore into taking a difficult game-winning attempt, Collins and USF sent a 86% FT shooter to the line with a pair of freebies standing in the way of another Seton Hall victory. Unfortunately, the front-end rimmed out and rolled to mid-court as the closing seconds ticked off the clock. Gut. Punch.
It was a game Seton Hall should have had, it was a game they needed to have. Seton Hall has more talent than South Florida and can not afford to lose games to teams they're supposed to beat. However, as we've seen in the conference all year, nothing is surprising. Surely, the Bulls are not easy at home, where they've lost one game all year, to the defending champions and by a margin of 3 points. That said, at the end of the season the selection committee may very well pin this loss on the Pirates as a, "bad loss." Who knows, the Pirates are just a half game better than the Bulls in-conference right now, so it's really too early to discuss whether it's a bad loss or it isn't. For right now, the loss knocks the Pirates out of the Poll and gives the doubters ammunition, so at the moment, indeed, bad loss.
Unfortunately, the heartbreaker rained on the coming out of freshman, Haralds Karlis. Fighting injury and struggling to find minutes as of late, he went off for 12pts/4reb/3stl and was absolutely in NBA Jam en-fuego mode in the second half, hitting 4-of-5 from deep. Surprisingly, South Florida did a tremendous job at limiting Herb Pope (10pts/7reb) and Fuquan Edwin 4pts/3reb), who took just five shots on the night. The game plan looked to take Edwin completely out of the game and the Bulls did as good a job as any opponent this season. He barely got touches.
I can't believe it's come to this, but it might be time for this team to get in the gym to work on their layups and bunnies. As ridiculous as that sounds, too many Pirates have struggled to convert the open and easy looks. It's almost as if certain players get nervous when they realize how wide open they are with the rock in their hands under the basket. Who is going to dunk the ball on this team? Why is everyone going to the rim timid? This is the Big East, those attempts don't fly, literally. Dunk the damn basketball.
Now, allow me to make a couple comments on Jordan Theodore (16pts/5ast/4stl/3reb/3to, 5-of-14), who showed flashes of the old JT and the new JT in what was a bit of an identity crisis throughout the night. At times, he played out of control as we saw excessive dribbling leading to turnovers, poor shot selection and generally, the Jordan of old who often attempted to do too much. At other times, he was hitting big shots and converting tough reverse layups. Say he choked at the end of the game and cost the Pirates the game, you'd have a valid point. He's the senior captain of the team and needs to make those, agreed. Without having heard any of the post game quotes from Kevin Willard or the players as of yet, I'd be absolutely SHOCKED if Theodore didn't put the loss squarely on himself. It's just the type of competitor he is. I can also GUARANTEE you that Jordan WILL improve from this loss. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if he takes off for the gym before the plane comes to a complete landing in Newark. Take my word and believe that the loss will make him better. Or don't. Go ahead and count him out now, you'll be back.