For 30 minutes on Thursday, the Pirates really stuck with the third-ranked team in the country.
And with neither team in much of a rhythm, all it took was a couple of possessions to turn the game in Louisville's favor and hand the Pirates their second straight Big East defeat in front of an engaged crowd at Prudential Center.
Here are the 5 Thoughts:
- Attack mode
In the first half, the Pirates did their best to work their offense and get the ball into the paint, either with entry passes to the post or drives from a variety of players. And their ball movement was very, very good. They found gaps in the Cards' defense, which was a bit more lax than usual, and used them to get points inside (24 of 34 points came from Brandon Mobley and Gene Teague) and to get to the foul line (21 attempts). Neither team really got second shot opportunities, so the Pirates' aggressive approach on offense was a great counter to Louisville's defense.
Plus, their matchup zone was very active in defending the talented perimeter guys for Louisville- Russ Smith was forced into 1-8 shooting while Peyton Siva also wasn't a huge factor. The Cards remained close because of a very good half by Gorgui Dieng, who found the high post a few times to mostly good results.
It was an encouraging sign to see the Pirates come out like that. The only question was how long they would be able to keep their energy up on both ends of the court.
- Spinning Their Wheels
At the start of the second half, the Pirates struggled to keep control of the ball. One of the stats of the game ended up being the 21 Cardinals points off of 16 Pirates turnovers, and at the beginning of the second half, Louisville was getting the miscues, but not finishing. Nevertheless, the visitors held a 7-point lead after 5 minutes.
Seton Hall, who had to really play hard to make it a game in the first half, knew that they couldn't let Louisville jump out any further. So they counterpunched, and in a really nice up-and-down sequence, the Pirates cut into the lead and eventually tied the game on a three by Fuquan Edwin.
From there, the Cardinals finally tightened their grip defensively, and Luke Hancock hit two big threes to help build the lead to 10 with 7:29 remaining. From there, it was clear that Seton Hall was tired, and that 12-2 run ended up deciding the game.
One can only wonder what could have been with a full roster, or even if Brian Oliver was active. His size on the wing would have been good for the following reason....
- Bottling Up Edwin
Fuquan Edwin had Wayne Blackshear on him for most of the game, a pretty even matchup in terms of athleticism. They kept an eye on Edwin at all times, and he only had 1 point at the half. He ended up with 13, but on 4-14 shooting. The plan worked because Edwin, a guy who could get the Pirates back in it potentially, was never in a rhythm.
After the game, Coach Willard said that Edwin has to realize that teams are going to key on him, and that the Pirates have to do a better job of finding him on offense. Both counts are correct, especially with Oliver continuing to sit. When he's in with Edwin, he creates an issue for opposing defenses, especially now since Oliver's basically playing the 4. It's very difficult to pay attention to both at the same time on the court.
- Ball pressure
Seton Hall did a really good job with Louisville's press, especially Aaron Cosby. Against two of the best ballhawks in the country, the point guards kept their heads up and their dribbles active. It was the halfcourt offense, especially in the second half, that was the main issue, but not press breaking. The last few games, the Pirates have done something so simple it's almost a given, but it's worth mentioning anyway- they're using the 6'8" Mobley in the middle of the floor against presses, and it's doing worlds for their press-breaking sets.
This was a nice effort to see, and it really isn't a bad loss at all, despite it dropping the Pirates to 1-2 in conference play. With more depth, I think this would have been a close game heading into the final minutes, but it was not meant to be.
What Seton Hall really needs is for Oliver and Aaron Geramipoor to get back to the court, the latter to help spell the bigs for more than they're currently getting. Their upcoming stretch of games is easier on paper than their first three games have been, but Providence is going to come in hungry after falling to Syracuse at home to drop to 0-3 in the Big East. It's a game both teams really need, so there's no letup after playing this hard.
Just another thing about this thing called the Big East.