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Lackluster first half cues second half Seton Hall surge that falls just short at Carnesecca

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

St. John's nearly squandered a 17-point second half lead over the final nine minutes of play before Fuquan Edwin (12 pts) was stripped of the ball at half court on a broken play as time expired, leaving the Red Storm with a 77-76 victory that snapped their five-game Big East losing streak. The meeting between cross-river rivals was the first at Carnesecca Arena since 2010, when Seton Hall won 59-50, and improves St. John's record against Seton Hall in Queens to 3-1 over the last decade plus.

Seton Hall closed the daunting 17-point gap to just one by way of aggressive play that resulted in free throws, a possessed Patrik Auda (12 pts, 7 rebs), several St. John's missed free throws, and a Red Storm inbound pass that was thrown all the way down court and intentionally touched as it went out of bounds by Orlando Sanchez (16 pts), preventing Seton Hall from an under the basket inbound pass. The play came after St. John's twice fouled when leading by three points, first with :14 to play and then again with :05 to play. The wacky end-game play-by-play was not executed to perfection by St. John's, but a misrun play on Seton Hall's final possession failed to yield a shot attempt.

"[Long pause]... We did the complete opposite of what we were supposed to do [on the final play], which is a little frustrating," Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard admitted to Gary Cohen and Dave Popkin on 970 AM post-game. "We were going to have Fu' [Fuquan Edwin] just slip and get out with the big guy [God`sgift Achiuwa] on the ball. Sterling [Gibbs] was just going to come to his right, [the inbounder, Jaren Sina, was going to] throw him a little bounce pass, and he was just going to go, get the ball up in three seconds, Fuquan's man was probably going to come help him, Fuquan would be up the wing... we just didn't do it... But that's not why we lost the game, we lost the game because we played like... we played terrible and had nineteen turnovers."

Seton Hall committed fifteen first half turnovers, including six turnovers in nine possessions from 14:13 to 10:00 in the first half. Poor all-around ball security led to the suppression of a Pirate offense that came out in sync, propelling Seton Hall to an early 13-3 lead that would quickly evaporate due to a "frantic" approach to the game.

"We didn't do a good job of getting the basket inside, Patrik, Eugene. It's okay to take 21 threes, but not if you're only taking 48 shots. It comes down to 19 turnovers. It just really hurt us, stupid turnovers too. Too quick, in a rush. Just get the ball in bounds, guys being careless and lackadaisical with passes... that's something we've got to improve rather quickly on going into Saturday," proclaimed Willard.

"Even though we shot 52-percent, it's just the turnovers. We came out at such a frantic pace to try and score," Willard diagnosed. "I thought we did a good job in a couple games [prior] trying to get teams to work a little bit."

Wasted possessions sparked a 20-9 St. John's run during the middle portion of the first half that completely flipped the scoreboard and body language on the court. Seton Hall came out punching, but St. John's hit back, harder.

"You can't give an athletic team easy buckets. We got in a real bad rhythm offensively and defensively. It's disappointing," said Willard. "That's a game where if we just take care of the basketball, the way we're shooting and the way we're scoring, we're going to get good enough looks where we can score. We didn't come out with a lot of poise."

Gene Teague (7 pts), Brian Oliver (19 pts, 3 stls), and Sterling Gibbs (20 pts, 6 rebs, 4 asts) started the game with desire, scoring 14 of Seton Hall's first 15 points. But after succumbing to St. John's harassing defensive pressure, which resulted in numerous fast break opportunities, the trio fell quiet. Failing to help the cause, forwards Brandon Mobley (1 pt, 3 rebs), Patrik Auda, and Aaron Geramipoor, contributed just three points (free throws), five rebounds, and five turnovers in the first half, along with several missed shots.

"I was a little disappointed in the way Patrik and Brandon came out, they seemed a little hesitant... especially offensively," professed Willard. "I expect so much from them offensively, and we need a lot from them offensively."

Seton Hall overcame a six-point halftime deficit and cut St. John's lead to one at 41-40 due to 11 quick points, all by Brian Oliver and Sterling Gibbs. The Johnnies quelled the visitor's plans and much like the first half, went on a 24-8 run that ballooned their lead to 17 at the 9:00 mark. And just like the first half, when Oliver and Gibbs fell silent, their supporting cast couldn't produce with a fatigued Gene Teague.

Teague's work rate did not diminish over time last night, but his production did, and understandably so for someone who had played just 23 minutes over nearly a months' time since suffering a severe concussion on December 27th. The big fella logged 31 minutes last night.

"He [Teague] probably played way too many minutes tonight, he looked a little gassed at times, especially with how quick and athletic they [St. John's] are. The only way hes going to get it back [fitness] is if he keeps going out there. He had a couple of good looks in the second half."

A Seton Hall team that put little value into their possessions in the first half served themselves up on a platter for falling into a sizeable deficit when playing a rival on their campus court, and it showed.

But as the Pirates flirted with being routed at Carnesecca Arena and as some of the media and fans engrossed in the game last night were about to 'sharpie' St. John's in as comfortable winners, Seton Hall fought back over the last nine minutes, before ultimately falling short.

"They showed a lot of collective will, when we got down 17 we could have easily let that go to 25," claimed Willard. "We need that aggressiveness in the first half, we don't seem to get that in the first half. We seem to be a little timid for some reason in the first half."

With a quick turnaround before taking on DePaul in Newark on Saturday night, it looks like Willard will need to help his team find a balance between playing "frantic" and "aggressive" on the offensive end.

"We have to come out at home with a little better attitude than we have at home. We've gotta come out a little more aggressive, we'll talk about our press tomorrow. Be a little bit more aggressive at home and get back to pounding the basketball inside a little bit.

"We're 2-4 out of the first six, my goal was to hopefully be 3-3, and we're 2-4, so we've got to do some work."