Everything was going right for Seton Hall. Their outside shots were falling more often than not, a new Pope had just been decided upon, and they were treading above a struggling Syracuse team for the entire first half. But, a positive start came crashing down upon a weary Seton Hall team as they fell 75-63 to Syracuse in the second round of the 2013 Big East Tournament.
Brian Oliver and Kyle Smyth knocked down consecutive three pointers to open the contest at a mind-numbingly contrasting pace when compared to last night's disastrous victory over South Florida. Seton Hall continued to look like the more ravenous team for much of the first half. However, Syracuse's James Southerland played out of his mind, scoring 17 points on 5-7 shooting from downtown - he finished with 20. Southerland single-handedly whittled away at Seton Hall's game-high 9-point lead with 8:33 to play in the first half and brought Syracuse level with the Pirates at halftime. Seton Hall's ship was held afloat by a team effort in the box score and an impactful nine points, all by way of the three-ball, from Kyle Smyth.
Then, Seton Hall's gas light came on as soon as play resumed. Jim Boeheim was vintage Boeheim, as he inspired an instant 5-0 Syracuse run out of the break. Ignoring their impending breakdown, the Pirates responded and went punch-for-punch with the Orange up until the under-8 television timeout. Brandon Triche took a long hard look at a tired, undermanned, and emotionally worn Seton Hall team and delivered a dagger three-ball to extend Syracuse's lead to nine going into the under-8.
Seton Hall's speedometer then took a nosedive as their last few drops of gas were spent.
The rout was on for Syracuse, who smelt blood, almost literally, oozing from Seton Hall. A nasty combination of fatigue - all five Pirate starters played at least 34 minutes today after playing over 32 minutes less than 24 hours prior - fouls, and vulnerability to offensive rebounding, drained Seton Hall's tank. "If we didn't have to play at 2 P.M., I think we would have played a little better defensively. I don't know why you play a night game and then a day game. We watched a little film last night but they were spent," said Willard, whose team was relegated to a pre-game walk-through in a ballroom at the team hotel. "You play as good a coached team as there is in the country, as talented a team as there is -- we could have used a couple hours, of not just rest, but preparation."
As Brian Oliver limped into Madison Square Garden's locker room, Haralds Karlis carried his protective face mask (and nursed his hernia), and Fuquan Edwin walked gingerly on his feeble ankle, they were followed by a sling-wearing Brandon Mobley and street-clothed Patrik Auda. A team visibly battered just as much as they were mentally worn down, as seen by the recent demeanor of Kevin Johnson, battled for their lives, as well as the career of lone scholarship senior Kyle Smyth, who teared up in the comfort of Kevin Willard as he exited a college game for the final time. Smyth, who Willard described as a "Great person, great student, great teammate" after Senior Night last week, finished the game with nine points. "It ended with the guy who it started off with. That really meant a lot," said a teary-eyed Smyth.
It just wasn't meant to be for a team whose season was seemingly snatched from them by a series of crippling injuries. "We took a vote [on] who wasn't hurt this year and I think Tommy [Maayan] was the only guy who didn't get hurt, but he was coming off ACL surgery," admitted Willard. "I'm just proud of them, I really am, I hate losing - I love these guys."
Following a hellish week for Seton Hall off the court - they lost their only two 2013 commitments - a valiant, frankly impressive, performance in New York City may just be the stabilizing force needed to glue the program together going forward. "I don't feel like this group has to prove anything. If anything, people should be proud of the effort they gave all year under the circumstances that we've had," proclaimed Willard.