That was intense.
It was a defensive struggle, it was loud, it was very hustle-filled, and despite being out-rebounded by 19, including by 17 on the offensive boards, the Pirates emerged victorious over Stony Brook in their first ever postseason win at Walsh Gymnasium, and first win in the NIT since 1956.
Here are the 5 Thoughts from a special night in South Orange:
- South Orange, Rock City
I had seen a couple men's basketball games at Walsh before, but all were exhibition games that were blowouts where the crowd expected a victory. This time, Stony Brook came in as a legit opponent, and this game counted for something. Once everyone had found their seats, the atmosphere was inSANE. Shortly after the buzzer sounded to begin the pregame ceremonies, the crowd was LOUD. Louder than I had ever heard the building get before. Someone started a "Let's Go Pirates" chant, and everyone joined in at the same time, with the same rhythm. It sent shivers up my spine, and all I could do sitting high above the scene in the press box was smile.
When the Pirates jumped out to an early 12-2 lead, sure it helped that they fed off the crowd and stuck their hands into every passing lane, but Stony Brook was clearly rattled by the intensity of the hornet's nest they had walked into. They committed 9 turnovers in the first 8 minutes of the game, and none of those were fluky. A+ to the fans that were able to snag tickets to the event. Next up is Massachusetts, and it'll be at Walsh again. Oh boy....
- Defensive Struggle
That's exactly what we thought this game would be, and after that early spurt from both teams (12-0 for the Pirates, countered by 14-6 from the Seawolves), neither team could open up much of a margin on the other. Stony Brook reminded Coach Dan McHale of Notre Dame (so he told me pregame), and he was right. "They lock you down," coach said referring to Stony Brook. I came away impressed by their sound positioning and effort, and especially with the America East DPOY Tommy Brenton (who jusssssssst missed a tip-in at the buzzer that would have tied it at the end).
On the Pirates' end, the defense was extraordinary early, had a little lull thereafter, and aside from the start of the second half was very good the rest of the game. The only real thing I could see that they didn't do was play off of Brenton when he had the ball (since he can't score at all), but other than that the defense was pretty good.
Now, rebounding is part of defense, but since most of the Pirates' deficit can be traced back to the offensive boards, let's focus on those. Sure there were times when there were failed box-outs, and that falls on the Pirates squarely, but Coach Willard was asked after the game about it, and he astutely pointed out that there were many instances where there were long rebounds that happened to bounce the Seawolves' way. So while the final numbers look ugly, and the 19 second chance points that Stony Brook got doesn't look to good, it wasn't as bad as the numbers indicate.
- Senior Desire
Let's hand it to Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope. They played like they did not want their Seton Hall careers to end last night, and the Pirate offense flowed through them all game long. Pope in particular was great- with no shot-blockers in the paint to worry about, he went about his business (shockingly, without seeing many double-teams at all; perhaps it's just Stony Brook's mentality on D) and dropped a stat-stuffer line of 20 PTS, 9 REB, 3 BLK and 4 STL on 7-10 (!) shooting. He had 4 TOs in the first half, but none in the second half.
Theodore was equally huge. His line of 21 PTS, 6 AST and 3 STL doesn't adequately reflect how many plays he made tonight. As both teams traded buckets for most of the second half, it was Theodore who gave the Pirates the separation they needed to hang on with three huge plays. First, he nailed an unbelievably tough turnaround fadeaway with the shot clock winding down from the top of the key. Then, he picked Brenton's pocket near halfcourt and took it in for a layup. Both these plays happened early in the half to get the crowd back in it after Stony Brook had taken the lead.
To top it off, he drew a charge on Stony Brook point guard Dave Coley, which (after he reacted to it and got T'd up by Ed Corbett) gave Coley both his 4th and 5th fouls. Theodore then sank both technical free throws to push what was a 5-point lead thanks to Patrik Auda's nifty drive and score and Brandon Mobley's three to 7 points.
Of Stony Brook's 18 turnovers, 15 of them were Seton Hall steals. And 13 of those were from Pope, Theodore and Fuquan Edwin (who had 5 steals in the first 8 minutes and finished with 6). Included in these steal totals was also one of the plays of the night in my opinion. Stony Brook had the ball and tried to reverse it. But Haralds Karlis stepped in front and intercepted the pass with remarkable Edwin-like anticipation. He then took it in transition and passed up to Edwin for a layup that started the run in the middle of the 2nd half that gave the Pirates control of the game.
- Survive and Advance
That's what the Pirates were able to do in the end, and in the postseason, that's what counts. Meanwhile, Seton Hall's next opponent will be UMass, and the game will once again be at Walsh Gym. UMass is not the same team that Stony Brook was, so it will be a much different experience. A full preview will be up on the Juice the day before, as usual.
The Pirates took on a very good defensive team, and in the end, they made just enough plays to get the job done. I would expect the same level of intensity later this week against the Minutemen.
Fight, Fight, Fight, for the Blue and White!