Every game is beginning to feel like groundhog day. Turnover, turnover, turnover... what's that, it's not even Christmas yet? As slippery as the ball was, evidenced by Seton Hall's 23 turnovers and Wake Forest's late miscues, it felt as if February's black ice replaced the leather on the Spalding tonight. Although the Baton Rouge shadow appeared, Seton Hall ignored it and managed to escape without succumbing to another disaster. Chris McManus summed it up on Twitter in the closing seconds:
I'm seriously questioning whether I'm watching Seton Hall - LSU in a different setting and a reversal of roles.
Faced with their second road contest against another average (at best) basketball team, Seton Hall (7-2) cared for the basketball in the same haphazard manner we saw last week at LSU, but squeaked out the W, defeating Wake Forest (4-5), 71-67. Despite recording the victory, the same sloppy play we've seen over the last two weeks was on full display again: awful ball security, a lack of early offensive execution and even surprisingly, defensive lapses throughout the first half.
Despite out-rebounding the Deacons by 7 in the first stanza (and +17 on the night), Seton Hall was unable to take advantage as they turned the rock over twelve times in which Wake Forest converted 10 points. C.J. Harris (28 pts, 7-of-10, 3pt) torched the Seton Hall 2-3 zone, hitting 5 triples as the Pirates were consistently late to rotate on his 7 first half attempts. As we've seen often throughout the season, the Pirates offense also took an extended nap (which Wake matched in the 2nd), going almost 8 minutes without a bucket before Teague ended the drought at the 5:45 mark. On the defensive end, Wake Forest beat Seton Hall on three first half textbook backdoor cuts, not something we're accustomed to see in the Kevin Willard era.
Gene Teague (19pts/8reb/7off) was almost solely responsible for keeping the Pirates close in the first half and was one of the lone Seton Hall constants throughout the night. Teague showed a soft touch converting on 9-of-13 attempts, but picked up his fourth personal foul with 12 minutes remaining in the second. Foul trouble has become a growing concern over recent games and it continually seems as if an essential Pirate (Teague, Edwin, Cosby) picks up their fourth foul with about 10 minutes to play.
In the second half, the Pirates chipped away at a 14-point deficit (17:30), as they relied on Gene Teague and Fuquan Edwin (24pts/7reb/7-of-9 ft) who combined for 23 of the Pirates 44 second half points. Teague recorded the first three buckets for the Pirates and Edwin made numerous shots and big free throws that kept the Pirates close, and later, hit two freebies to extend the Seton Hall lead to 3 points with 7 seconds remaining.
Tonight's play summed up frosh Tommy Maayan (6pts/2ast/5to/4stl), in a nutshell. He's going to make his share of freshmen mistakes, but he's also going to contribute his share of big plays, as we've seen previously this year. Tonight, he had MANY silly turnovers, throwing the ball away on more than one occasion that warranted a Kevin Willard lecture or three, and I mean, throwing it away, these weren't even close. Yet, there he was, in crunch-time, on the court, under the faith of his head coach in the closing minutes.
With 4:37 remaining and the Pirates trailing by a bucket, Maayan picked Devin Thomas' pocket, corralled the basketball and finished the break by himself, tying the game for the first time since it was 13-13. HUGE PLAY. On the next Seton Hall possession, Maayan recklessly threw the rock to the top of the key, hitting Wake's Travis McKie in stride for an easy two-points which pushed the Deacons lead to 4 points with just over 3 minutes remaining. ROOKIE MISTAKE. With the game tied with 2:22 on the clock, Maayan came away with ANOTHER steal and when Wake refused to respect him on the other end? Well, he decided to DRILL a pull up 10-footer to put the Pirates on top. HUGE PLAY. Yes, he's mistake prone with the basketball, and reckless at times, but he's shown a fearless style of play and tremendous poise when the game is on the line. Not bad for the freshman, not bad, at all.
Lastly, KUDOS to Kevin Willard's decision to foul former Seton Hall recruit, and freshman, Madison Jones with Seton Hall leading by 3 and 4 seconds left in regulation. For whatever the reason, it's rare to see college coaches buy into this philosophy and I never understood why. Kevin Willard played the percentages, Wake Forest had NO CLUE the foul was coming and it paid off in his favor. Jones missed both attempts and the Pirates left with the dub. Tremendous decision by Kevin Willard, absolutely loved it.
It was surely another ugly one, but the Pirates now have two cupcakes at home (North Carolina A&T, Longwood) to work out their turnover problems. After one last road trip to Brooklyn (LIU) on December 22nd, they won't hit the road again until conference play kicks off against DePaul on January 2nd. Hopefully, after the holiday season, the gift-wrapped turnovers will merely be a thing of the past, you know, 2012 past.
More to come from JP tomorrow afternoon.