I don't know if I've been more nervous during a Seton Hall game like I was last night in a long time.
Down three with three minutes left and with tired legs and Jamee EFFING Crockett threatening to beat them again down the stretch, the Pirates somehow found themselves, and a well-drawn-up inbounds play got Fuquan Edwin an opportunity to finish, which he did.
Here are the 5 Thoughts from what I hope is the least nerve-wracking W of the season (although I know already that it won't be):
- AC, not A/C
Aaron Cosby scored a career-high 24 PTS, and kept the Pirates on the right track throughout the first half with some really tough baskets. He was just plain hot in the opening stanza- not much else you can say.
Tom Maayan had the type of game you'd expect from a freshman facing a press-at-all-times team (1 AST, 6 turnovers), and it was Cosby who had the ball in his hands the most as a result. He delivered tonight, shooting 9-16 from the floor and 4-7 from deep. He didn't look like a totally cool customer in the face of the pressure, but it was a great confidence-builder type game for him. And it was sorely needed.
- Mr. Double-Double
Brandon Mobley kept things together when things started to get out of hand in the second half. With their backs pushed against the wall not once, but twice, Mobley responded with a 5-0 personal run both times. If the Pirates don't respond either time, they lose this game. But goodness- 16 PTS, 10 REB, 6-10 shooting, 3-4 from deep, and only 1 turnover? Give him and Cosby co-MVP for this one. He's among the Big East leaders in double-doubles, and it's time he started getting more publicity for the poise that he continues to show.
Speaking of double-doubles, Gene Teague (11 PTS, 15 REB) also came on strong late in the game after picking up a couple early fouls. DePaul could not handle him without doubling him, but doubling him cost DePaul their swarming ability on the Pirates' ballhandlers. So Teague was left 1-on-1 when he did get the ball in the post, and he converted most of those times.
But the real contribution he made was the glass. 1/3 of his boards were on the offensive glass, and most of those were in the game's final 10 minutes. "The Dancing Bear" kept several critical possessions alive, and even so, one of the best things he did was in the game's final possession.
After J.F.C missed a good look at a dagger three, the rebound went towards the DePaul bench. Teague was there to track it down, and rather than grab it and get fouled (he was 1-4 from the free throw line), he smacked it up the sideline. That ended up running the clock all the way down to 0.2 seconds, essentially ending DePaul's chances. A terrific, veteran play by a veteran player.
- Smart Fella
An underrated part of the box score? Kyle Smyth's line. 6 PTS, 3 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL and ONE turnover. There really is no substitute for experience, and Smyth was the most experienced player on the floor. His shot didn't fall, but his contributions were far bigger than his line. He played smart, and I'm not sure if he got credit for the steal on the second to last defensive possession for the Pirates, but it was Smyth who created the turnover that ended up turning into Edwin's game-winning layup.
Cosby, Mobley and Teague will get all the headlines, and rightfully so. But Smyth was equally huge.
- Final Verdict
Considering Seton Hall had only 7 scholarship players dress for the first time since the Gonzo Era (I think), this is a good win for the Pirates. A loss would have been a sock to the gut for a team still trying to settle in, and they ended up surviving against quite possibly the toughest matchup for them in the entire conference.
DePaul was terrible defensively in the first half, and the Pirates got tons of open looks out of it. They tightened up in the second half mostly via their press. But the Pirates found a way thanks to their bigs down the stretch. It may have taken some years off my life and inches off my hairline, but if survive and advance is a mantra, let's all chant it together.
Seton Hall also out-rebounded the Blue Demons 37-28 overall, and 12-7 on the offensive boards in a game that at times turned into playground ball. Throw 10-24 from deep in there, and 19 AST on 27 baskets, and usually you get a nice recipe for a win. Not so with DePaul. They're just not a good matchup for the Pirates right now.
- Looking ahead
On paper, it's two ranked teams. One of them rarely ever loses at home, and the other is one of the best defensive teams in the country. In Notre Dame, the Pirates have to deal with Jack Cooley in the paint, and Eric Atkins with Jerian Grant in the backcourt. Plus, Seton Hall hasn't won in South Bend since 2001. But the Irish don't run like deer- this is a much better matchup for the Pirates' style. It will still be a chore, but probably less nerve-wracking than last night.
I won't even get into Louisville yet. That's a whole different story. But that's another reason it was crucial to get the win in Rosemont- a loss, and it would have been an 0-3 start in conference play. Now, the Pirates have some good feelings going in to Saturday. And that's all you can ask for.