Tune up game? Tune up game.
Seton Hall fired on all offensive cylinders after a quick start and completely manhandled South Florida 89-69 Thursday night in Tampa. Now sitting at 9-1, the Pirates have a crucial chance to tally a non-conference road scalp by winning at Georgia on Sunday night in Athens.
Some stellar offense. In the lead up to the game, I questioned how Seton Hall's offensive approach would look after wilting at Wichita State in their prior road game. In a much tamer environment that was closer to the Paradise Jam than the Roundhouse, Seton Hall's attack bloomed. The rock was zipping around the court and everyone was getting involved, but Sterling Gibbs and Isaiah Whitehead, together, led the charge. The two guards had nine assists and one turnover late in the first half.
Balance. It's been a staple for most of the season, and it was again tonight. Five Pirates scored in double figures and three more were within a basket of also doing so. Haralds Karlis hit big shots (he's now 7-of-9 from three against USF) and Khadeen Carrington again produced off the bench with 10 points and five rebounds.
The defensive game plan worked, sort of. Willard said post-game the plan was to guard against Corey Allen Jr. and Nehemias Morillo three-pointers, as that was the only way USF could win (quote below). Midway through the first half, I noted on Twitter that it almost seemed like Ruben Guerrero's easy weak side buckets were by design, and they kind of were. It almost seems contrarian for Willard to game plan for shutting down USF's three-point shooting when they were 7 of 39 in the two games prior.
Take out the trash mentality. Willard said post-game that the attitude going into the game wasn't about winning the first road game, but to beat a team that Seton Hall should. So far this season, in stark contrast to last year, the Hall has definitively dispatched of inferior non-conference opponents, and tonight was no different. I feel like I'm in a Twilight Zone episode of 10-point halftime leads that quickly erupt into 15 to 25-point advantages before the second under-16 timeout.
The Chier Ajou era has started. Ajou picked up an assist and set a mountain of a screen for Haralds Karlis' third triple of the night in his Pirate debut. Willard sounded pretty enthusiastic about adding Chier to his forward rotation and said he had to verify ten minutes before the game that he was eligible to play (I was told over a week ago that Ajou was good to go tonight).
On game planning for USF defensively: "I was much happier with our defense in the second half [...] For a young team, I said they're going to get some lay ups the way we're playing them because we were taking away the three. I really thought the only way they could beat us is if they make threes.
"We didn't change anything besides we decided to get a little tighter on our defense. Sometimes when you are scoring so easily, your offensive end starts subtracting [your defense], it's like a magnet. I just reminded the guys, if we want to become a good team we have to be able to beat teams that are not as good as us ... I was going to give Chris Perry open jumpers, I was going to give the big guys some open lay ups, as long as Morillo and Allen didn't get threes. When you make 11 threes and the other team doesn't make any, you're going to win every game."
On if team's mentality was about winning a road game coming in: "I don't talk about that, I think that becomes a mental block, I just talked about us getting better. When we've decided to go on the road, road wins mean a lot. I purposely scheduled the way I scheduled for the tests ... We had two great days of practice. I really thought the last two days we practiced really well."
Thoughts on adding Chier Ajou: "Chier will get more time, when its your first game, I didn't want to put him in there and not be able to have him find a rhythm. If we had played a little bit better defense in the first half, I would have put him in. I believe Chier is really going to help us because he gives us a presence inside. All of a sudden the trajectory on your shot changes. Angel and Rashed have done an unbelievable job the first 9 games of being a presence in there, but he's a real presence. He's going to get more minutes and I think he can help us."
The context of the Southeastern road trip: "I was glad to get these guys off campus and come down to the warmth, I think it's a little bit more of relaxing atmosphere than being on campus and it's also indicative when you now have Creighton and Xavier -- you're on the road for five days. It's important to get used to what we're going to do in the hotel, last night we went out to the movies and then this morning was your normal game day. Tomorrow we'll try to have our normal after-game practice -- a lot of shooting and preparation for Georgia -- and then we're going to see the Orlando Magic game. That's kind of what I'm getting them to do, a normal day. That's what I want them to get in the habit of, this is what's going to happen on the road, this is what we're going to do.
"Every Friday we practice at 9am and every Saturday we practice at noon, because we have so many noon games. The more you can get in habits and good habits, i think the better off your kids will play because they're comfortable. Last year, I should have probably practiced a lot at night because we had so many 9 p.m. games [...] I made a conscious effort this year with so many new names, to really focus on a normal ritual of what we do."