I detest the term "must win". I really do. But to say that tonight's game wasn't a "must win" may not exactly be correct either. Tonights 67 - 48 drubbing of the never-dapper Bob Huggins' West Virginia Mountineers was a statement win for the Pirates, and one they desperately needed to make.
JP mentioned earlier how this game would be a real litmus test for Seton Hall and I couldn't have agreed more. Lose on your home court in a critical and early conference game, and the resolve of the team might not be what we thought / hoped it was. Win, and the Pirates still might really have somethin' special here this season. Thankfully, we're able to discuss the latter.
A few nights ago, the Pirates really got it handed to them at the hands of #1 Syracuse; embarrassing like. Sure, I was upset with the loss, but I was more distraught that our 11-1 (at the time) Pirates appeared to be apathetic in their play against the #1 team in the nation. So, how did they respond to that debacle tonight on national television? With energy and intensity; and a tremendous amount of both to boot. Seton Hall's zone defense was simply outstanding. Granted, the open looks WVA had in the first half mostly rimmed in and out, but the limited amount of good looks the Seton Hall defense allowed was impressive. For a team that's averaging roughly 78 points per game, the Mountaineers failed to hang 50 points on the Pirates. I realize this stat is somewhat conveluted, as their out-of-conference schedule doesn't carry the same collective SOS (strength of schedule) that the Big East grind does; however, WVA scored 83 points on (hapless) Villanova last week, and aside from tonight, their lowest points output all season was 60. What does all of my yapping mean? Our defense was very, very effective. Hats off to Kevin Willard and his coaching staff for readying their team. I spoke with Athletic Director Pat Lyons just prior to tip, and he was oozing energy and excitement for tonight's game. He said, "Man, I want this game. Our guys are really ready to play tonight. I can't wait. Tonight is big."
By all accounts, tonight was big, as Seton Hall held a 16 point lead at halftime leading 38 - 22. In fact, WVA didn't get closer than 8 points for the rest of the night. Kevin Jones lead the way for The Mountaineers with 15 points and 10 rebounds but West Virginia was held scoreless for the final 6 1/2 minutes and shot a miserable 32% from the field (17 - 53 shooting).
Fuquan "which one of y'all kicked me" Edwin continues his deft Jason Borne like assassination of the stat sheet. The nations leader in steals "quietly" went for 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, 1 block and a partridge in a pear tree. The kid is a stud and is perhaps the least heralded impact player in the Big East.
I also can't overemphasize how critical Aaron Cosby is to the success of this Pirate team. His contributions often go overlooked due to names like Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore, but the freshman consistently displays quiet confidence and, more importantly, results. His stat line of 9 points and 9 rebounds (2 of 5 from deep) is outstanding - he really doesn't throw up an ill advised shot. My effusive praise is warranted; it's going to be a real pleasure watching his development over the next 3 1/2 seasons.
Finally, a lot of coaches decide to leave their starters in at the end of blow-out games in an effort to tighten up the final score so it looks a bit more respectable on the ESPN ticker. Certainly Coach Willard had an opportunity to do that in Syracuse about 48 hours ago, but he made the decision to give his bench some experience in a hostile environment while also resting his starters. This approach appears to have payed significant dividends, as we saw some pretty fresh legs out there for the entire game tonight. Great call, Coach. My last post outlined that Seton Hall has the lowest bench contribution in terms of minutes played per game at only 6.6 (five Big East teams were compared), so it is of paramount importance for Coach Willard to find time to appropriately rest his starters - especially with the quick turnaround Seton Hall was facing. Oh, and Jordan Theodore's numbers tonight? 18 points, 8 assists, and ZERO turnovers... no big whoop.
Waiting in the wings on Tuesday are the 11-1 (1-0) Calhoun-less UCONN Huskies, ranked #9 in the nation. It's been said a number of times already, but the Pirates' first three Big East games are a brutal stretch. Splitting with Syracuse and West Virginia is not an easy task, so the Pirates should be playing with well founded confidence going into Tuesday's tilt with last years NCAA Champions.
Much more to come tomorrow with JP's 5 thoughts.
As always, HAZARD ZET!