Despite trailing for the first 30 minutes of action, an acrobatic Vander Blue alley-oop awoke his Marquette Golden Eagles (19-4, 8-2); defeating Seton Hall (15-7, 4-6) at the Bradley Center, 66-59, on Tuesday night. The Pirates controlled the game well into the second half even with a shooting percentage that teetered around 40% throughout the night. In the first half, the Pirates made it a point to run the offense through Herb Pope (16pts/7reb) who had his way against Marquette early and often. After intermission, Pope couldn't find the basket after the 13:20 mark as he battled foul trouble, (4th PF at 10:27) and opportunities for touches when he was on the floor. In fact, Pope took just two shot attempts in the final 13 minutes as the Pirates lead and essentially the game, slipped away.
Kevin Willard surprised, well, just about everyone, starting with his starting lineup. Sending a message to his players, while also infusing additional height against a Marquette lineup that was down Davante Gardner, the Pirates started Freddie Wilson, Haralds Karlis and Aaron Geramipoor along with the seniors. I absolutely loved the move. The team was reeling and hardly playing team offense, a shakeup was necessary. Though the new starting lineup hardly produced offensively while they were on the floor, they kept it together on the glass and defensively leading 4-2 before the regulars entered the game. I applaud Willard for the move.
That said, there were also some moments where Kevin Willard didn't particularly excel. Usually a coach who executes timeouts to his team's advantage, Marquette caught him sleeping at the end of the first. The Golden Eagles burned the Pirates with a 9-2 (would have been 11-2 sans the failed alley-oop in the final seconds) run in the final five minutes and although it was briefly stalled by the final media timeout, Seton Hall could have used a .30 to regroup their tired legs. In fact, if it weren't for the butchered showboat alley-oop attempt by Darius Johnson-Odom to close the half (noted above), the Pirates would have led by only a deuce at the break.
Secondly, I'm not entirely sure what Brandon Mobley (7pts/6reb) did to deserve his benching late in the game. One of the better players on the floor for the Pirates, Mobley sat for most of the closing minutes, while a brutal Patrik Auda manned the floor with both Pope and Edwin who had 4 fouls a piece. This evening was as bad as I think I've ever seen Auda play and Mobley was contributing in multiple aspects of the game, yet Willard rolled with Auda in the final minutes. MIND. BOGGLING. The only thing I can realistically think of is Willard was giving Patrik a final chance to prove he has SOMETHING in the tank. If it was a test, he failed. Auda is lost. He does not have anything offensively, he plays hot potato with the basketball, does not look for a shot other than putting his head down, blindly driving and taking a contested layup. Tonight, he couldn't even corral clean rebounds. When he finally did, he tripped, fell and traveled with the basketball. Even worse than all of that, he's absolutely a liability on the defensive end, right now. He can not be on the floor in crunch time, especially over Brandon Mobley, or even Aaron Geramipoor (4pts/6reb) at this point.
Finally, trailing by just 4 points and 2:45 remaining, Seton Hall rebounded an Eagles miss and on the offensive end, they failed to run a play. Seriously, it's as bad as it sounds. Theodore wasted a precious 20 seconds off of the shot clock before finally moving the ball. Everyone stood around as the ball floated a few times around the perimeter before it found Edwin at the top of the key who proceeded to dribble the remaining ticks off of the shot clock. This folks, was a clinic on how to NOT run a play, with the game on the line, in the closing minutes. Seriously, NOT run a play. It looked as if they had try considerably hard to execute that poorly. It was just an all around pathetic sequence.
A point guard was impressive tonight, but it was Freddie Wilson, in limited minutes. First, the kid has a slew of playground moves, but unlike other Pirates who like to get a little cute, Freddie can actually finish them. He also hit a huge 3-pointer, added 3 assists, a pair of rebounds and only turned the ball over once. The one turnover came on a pass he couldn't handle, not from anything he did at the point. Jordan Theodore, on the other hand? He took better care of the basketball tonight with 7 assists to one turnover, but man, his shot just isn't falling. Beyond that, he's still taking bad shots, there was a contested 3-on-1 attempt or two, one of which came with the Pirates up 7 late into the first half. You can not waste those opportunities and possessions, especially on the road.
Now faced with a 4-6 Big East record, the Pirates face a tremendous uphill battle the rest of the way. A Saturday matinee awaits with a struggling 4-4 Connecticut Huskies team that should be just as difficult as Marquette was this evening. Sure, the Golden Eagles are the more complete team, but you can't tell me UConn who is also reeling, at home and hungry, will present any less of a task than Marquette did tonight. The Pirates had ample opportunities tonight, but when push came to shove, they couldn't peel themselves off the floor. If they don't find a way to get up between now and Saturday, Rutgers will have a chance to double up our conference W's with L's, and, nobody wants to be embarrassed by the Scarlet Knights. Especially us. A sweep of the national champions is in order, in fact, it's the final wake up call.