It was Bobby Gonzalez's intent to send a message in Seton Hall's (12-8, 3-6) loss to Villanova (20-1, 9-0) last night. However, after the fact, I'm not sure it was the message that he intended to get across. In an attempt to teach Hazell a lesson that selfish shot-selection would not be tolerated, the head coach instead sent a message to the team that it was acceptable to give in to defeat. Let me explain.
With the Pirates trailing by 13 with 4:05 to play, Gonzalez decided to bench Jeremy Hazell who had 32PTS on 12-of-23 shooting. In the 3 minutes prior to the benching, Hazell had taken a trio of bad shots, all contested and even one where he was triple teamed, Jeremy missed them all. For that reason, you might agree with Gonzalez for benching his star player as many fan reactions were along the lines of, "I would have done the same thing." Valid points, but allow me to continue, if I may.
When asked after the game why he decided to sit the only scoring threat for the Pirates, Gonzalez was adamant that he was trying to teach Hazell, "something." Brendan Prunty, with the quote:
"You don’t get points for degree of difficulty with guys tackling you and then complaining to the officials because even the officials get frustrated. So it was just a chance for me to be a leader and maybe teach him something. Hopefully he learned from it."
Sounds nice doesn't it? I admit, it does. In fact, it sounds like a coaching philosophy I can get behind. What I can't get behind is the timing of this quote/message/teaching lesson. We're now 20 games into the 2009-2010 season and this is the FIRST time Jeremy Hazell has been BENCHED in crunch time for taking BAD SHOTS. Take a moment to comprehend that last sentence, I understand the random and sporadically spaced capitalized words may have thrown you off. If that were Gonzo's philosophy from the very beginning, I would stand fully behind him. However, I have to ask, why wasn't Hazell benched during the crucial moments of the following games:
- 11/13 vs. SPC, 0-of-10, 0-of-6 3PT
- 12/19 vs. Temple, 4-of-17, 1-of-11 3PT
- 12/26 vs. WVU, 14-of-33, 4-of-19 3PT
- 12/29 vs. SYR, 12-of-31, 6-of-15 3PT
- 1/6 @ UConn, 5-of-20, 2-of-8 3PT
All season, Gonzalez has riden Hazell to the very end of games, despite questionable shot-selection and erratic shot attempts and for good reason. Yes, Hazell nearly shot his team out of the West Virginia game, however, he wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line and delivered. With Hazell on the bench against WVU, there wouldn't have been an overtime played at The Rock. Against Syracuse, the junior probably shot the ball too many times, but he unquestionably kept his team alive and fighting until the very end. Against UConn and Temple, Hazell may have shot the Pirates out of the game, but Bobby trusted his star player, he didn't bench Jeremy down the stretch during any of these games. Why? Well, Hazell had earned his coach's trust. It's the old risk-reward with Jeremy, you know what you're going to get. He's going to take too many shots, but he's going to make his share of big ones, especially during the game's critical moments. At least Gonzalez showed SOME consistency in a year that has been anything but. That all ended last night when Gonzo relegated his sharp shooter to the bench, the same sharp-shooter that was 12-of-20 and 6-of-11 3PT before his three bad shot attempts came with 6:09, 6:03 and 4:27 left in regulation. It took twenty games into the season, a 12 point deficit with 4:05 to play against the #2 team in the country until Gonzo felt that it was time to send a message.
Time and time again this season, I've seen Bobby Gonzalez on the sidelines, throwing his arms up to signal a made 3PT shot following Hazell taking a contested 3PT attempt. You know, how fans do? Bobby encouraged it, he had no problems with giving Hazell a permanent green light, until last night, anyway.
Bobby was successful in getting a message across last night, however, I highly doubt Hazell took away the notion that he was doing something wrong, nor should he. Let me reiterate, if this was Bobby's philosophy since day one, preaching shot-selection, passing to the open man and taking corrective action if his players didn't buy into his philosophy, I'd agree that it was the right move. But he hasn't. This hasn't been his philosophy through the first 19 games and it wasn't the right move last night. Instead, Gonzo sent a message to his team that it was ok to give in to defeat against the Wildcats. Hell, the Pirates were down 13 with 4 minutes to go, game over right? We might as well take out a tiring Hazell, maybe save him for Pittsburgh? When it comes to answering to the media, I can say I taught the kid a lesson while being a leader.
I seriously hope this wasn't what was going through Gonzo's mind, but I'm not sure I can believe that it wasn't. All signs point to Bobby waving the white flag, throwing in the towel, and simply, giving up. Again, I certainly hope this wasn't the case last night, but let's look a little deeper into it, shall we? We all saw what happened in the West Virginia game, but unlike the WVU game, Villanova can make their FTs. In fact, they're the best FT shooting team in the Big East. Was Bobby afraid that we would keep missing 3PT attempts, followed by intentionally fouling Villanova, sending them to the line for free points? Did Gonzalez want to preserve a, "moral victory?"
They just outplayed us ... It was a difficult challenge, and we were in the mix. You look at the numbers and it doesn't mean we're not supposed to win, but we were up against a lot. When push came to shove and we were right there, they responded like great teams are supposed to respond."
Would Bobby be able to use phrases like, "we were in the mix," and "we were right there" had we continued to you know, actually try? If the team continued to shoot, miss and send Nova to the line, we may have lost by 20 points, but at least there would be no question as to whether or not the coach quit on the team. If benching the only legitimate scoring threat for the Pirates wasn't reason enough to question whether Gonzo gave up, look at the final three minutes of play without Hazell in the game. After a Eugene Harvey foul that sent Scottie Reynolds to the line with 2:59 to play, the Pirates would not foul again for the rest of the game. A team down 13 points with 3 minutes to play didn't even bother to foul their opponent? Can anyone make a case for anything other than Gonzo giving up? If you can, by all means, I'd love to hear it. While I'm on the topic of the final three minutes, where was the sense of urgency on offense? On the final five Pirates possessions they used up:
- 28 seconds before a Eugene Harvey missed layup
- 33 seconds before a Jordan Theodore turnover
- 10 seconds before a Herb Pope miss
- 28 seconds before a Robert Mitchell made jumper
- 11 seconds before Harvey drew a foul
Down double digits with 180 seconds remaining, the Pirates chose to use over 25 seconds on three of their final five possessions, further validating the idea that Gonzalez packed it up early. He sent his best player to the showers, called off the dogs on defense and told his players to take their time on offense. He wanted this one over, the quicker, the better.
Seton Hall hasn't won with the regularity that they expected to this season, however, they've played basketball with a fighter's mentality. They took a heavyweight to overtime, gave Syracuse all they could handle, threatened UConn on their own campus, other than Georgetown, they were a scrappy team that would often fall apart in the final minutes, much like a fighter losing their legs late. Despite the 3-5 conference record entering last night, the Pirates have gone down swinging, leaving it all on the court. Last night, they were never given the opportunity. No, they weren't even allowed out of the corner to finish the fight in the 12th round, their trainer had quit on them.
Follow the jump for reactions from: Prunty, Vorkunov, Carino, Villanova Viewpoint and IBBW.
SHU Athletics paints the picture of no return:
A three-pointer in the corner by Nova's Corey Stokes gave the lead back to the Wildcats, 65-62, with 8:26 remaining in regulation, but the worse news for the Pirates came only 10 seconds earlier when frontcourt stalwart Herb Pope picked up his fourth personal foul.
Unlike the SHU recap, the 'Nova Athletics department reports on the benching:
Hazell, the only Pirate to finish in double figures, did not play the final 4 minutes of the game. Coach Bobby Gonzalez was unhappy with Hazell's attempt to make a solo attempt at taking over the game.
The Pirates continue to be on the wrong side of the history books. Last week it was USF's first time winning back-to-back conference games and last night Scottie Reynolds dropped his 2,000th point in a Villanova uniform. He latter sank an impossible mid-range jumper which he got off while falling to the ground. Brendan Prunty reports:
That was when the Villanova point guard went off-balance, made the shot and plunged the final dagger into Seton Hall’s upset bid. "You work so hard for 30 seconds and he just throws up a shot and it goes in," a deflated Theodore said afterward. "It’s tough. But you’ve got to live with it. He made it, you’ve just got to worry about the next play."
Mike Vorkunov agrees with Gonzalez regarding Hazell's performance:
He attempted to dominate the game. Off-balance threes coming off screens, double-clutch shots in traffic, trying to bank catch and pop elbow jumpers off an inbounds pass. You can only get away with so many of those until you pass your coach's threshold. Hazell passed it.
I'm not entirely sure what game Vorkunov was watching. I mean, prior to the THREE BAD SHOTS Hazell took (from 6:09 to 4:27) his last shot attempt came at 9:41, which he made. He was hardly trying to dominate the game. As far am I'm concerned, he did dominate the game for as long as he was left in. I'd pose the same question to Mike that I asked earlier, if you can only "get away with so many of those," why was he allowed to get away with them all year without passing Gonzo's threshold? You know, the games in which he shot at a MUCH lower percentage?
Jerry Carino likens last night's game to Groundhog's Day, seen it all before:
—It was Groundhog Day in every sense for the Hall. We’ve seen this movie before, right? The Pirates have an elite team on the ropes and get out-executed down the stretch. That’s going to be the epitaph on this season, which appears headed for the NIT.
A couple of good Villanova reads:
The good folks over at IBBW get on the Pavilion fans for a lackluster performance well into the second half:
(Side rant: Are you kidding me students? You wait until Seton Hall takes the lead in the 2nd half before we hear a Let’s Go Nova chant? I hope you aren’t feeling entitled that you have the #2 team in the country. Please provide with a homecourt advantage. Rant over.)
Villanova Viewpoint's recap:
There were 10 lead changes and half a dozen ties, and it was not a comfortable game to watch, for a Villanova fan. Of course, the big highlight was Reynolds' arrival at the 2,000 point mark. It came surprisingly late, with Reynolds sitting at 1,999 points, with 11:35 to play. After Reynolds missed a triple due to it being blocked by Keon Lawrence, Villanova recovered a team rebound, and Reynolds drove in - fittingly - for a layup - his 2000th and 2001st points as a Wildcat.
The following image was sent to me from a buddy tonight. It's appropriately awesome on a ton of levels. First, because it's the logo of Hunter S. Thompson, the father of, "Gonzo" journalism. Secondly, Jeremy Hazell's mug shot is replacing where the drug peyote is usually placed in the center of the hand. Third, it appears to be a sign of support for Jeremy Hazell, as HST's logo was a fist containing two thumbs and four fingers, obviously a hand of a freak. And obviously, Hazell is a freak and a beast. A beast that was unfairly restrained to the pine as he painfully watched the clock tick away last night. I'm about to get the following image printed on a T with text that reads, "02.02.10. 32PTS, 12-of-23 FG, 6-of-12 3PT BENCHED." I would do this, you know, if there weren't a such thing as copyright infringement, awesome idea though. Thanks Matt. Enjoy:
The Pirates are next in action on Saturday night, taking on Pittsburgh for the second time in two weeks, this time, in Pittsburgh at 6PM.