Much like their loss at the Dunkin' Donuts to Providence a week prior, Seton Hall fought, battled and scrapped, but was simply outmatched by their opponent.
The Hall (15-12, 5-10) traded blows for 30 minutes with an experienced St. John's (18-9, 7-7) team in a must-win NCAA tournament scenario and playing their last game at Carnesecca Arena this season, but couldn't hang for more than 30 minutes, falling 85-72 in Queens after an 18-5 second half Red Storm run did them in.
Seton Hall didn't play poorly, but were outmatched. A very young team without Sterling Gibbs, the Pirates didn't have the extra "umph" that the Johnnies showed midway through the second half until the closing minutes. Call it an excuse if you want, but Seton Hall went toe-to-toe while using two role-playing seniors, Brandon Mobley, and five freshmen. Steve Lavin essentially rolled with four seniors and an experienced junior (Chris Obekpa) and sophomore (Rysheed Jordan).
After playing 41 minutes over the last 11 games (including four DNPs), Haralds Karlis did well. Hopefully the seldom-used senior sees more minutes next Saturday and beyond because he deserved every second on the court today. Karlis had six points and four assists in 26 minutes with most of his production coming early and was one of the major reasons why Seton Hall's offense produced 40 points in the first half. Perhaps he was figured out and asked to do too much after halftime, but Seton Hall was short on options as Willard rotated Whitehead, Carrington, Rodriguez, Karlis, and Manga at the 1 through 3 spots. Manga also did fairly well, scoring nine points in 20 minutes and again producing early.
A lot was asked of the Hall's freshman backcourt duo, and they performed fairly well. After hitting a slump over the last six games, Khadeen Carrington (16 pts, 6 rebs 4, asts) scored in double figures with 10 points coming in the first half while Isaiah Whitehead (19 pts, 8-24 fg, 3 asts) was struggling. He did a heavy amount of ball-handling and played very hard on a big stage. Whitehead missed some open first half shots and forced it at times, but responded nicely after "over-rated" chants cascaded down from the sellout crowd at Carnesecca as he dribbled the clock out late in the first half. Isaiah was the main reason for Seton Hall's early second half run and my only other gripe would be that he didn't have his best defensive game of the season.
Brandon Mobley's fouls really hurt. He didn't play that poorly when in the game, but two fouls in a minute late in the first half and his third and fourth fouls prior to the first media timeout after the half handicapped him. At least three of the fouls were pretty soft too and could have been avoided. Being on the bench for most of the second half left Seton Hall with five freshmen, Karlis and Manga for a long stretch. Brandon understandably looked dejected during the post-game press conference.
Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch were St. John's x-factors. As I noted in my preview, first team all-Big East candidate Sir`Dominic Pointer (22 pts, 10 rebs, 3 asts, 3 blks, 2 steals) did his thing and D`Angelo Harrison (12 pts, 6 rebs, 3 asts) was limited due to his calf injury, and the senior duo stepped up appropriately. I also warned in my preview how much Greene IV is being overlooked and he promptly produced yet another double digit game on 7 of 13 shooting including a trio of triples during the Red Storm's run. As already mentioned, Branch got St. John's run started by a pair of big shots.
On the impact of missing Jaren Sina and Sterling Gibbs: "Any time you don't have two guys that are playing 37 mpg, you're going to miss guys."
Breaking down Isaiah Whitehead's performance (19 pts, 8-24 fg, 3 asts): "When a guy hasn't played in six weeks, you're going to have some good stretches and some bad stretches. I thought he got off to a tough start but he did a good job of staying with it and battling through it. I thought he did some good things in the second half. I thought he did a good job in the second half of staying aggressive.
On what caused St. John's 11 of 26 performance from three: "I would say that was our defense. We gave them way too many open looks. At Providence we played really hard and really well, we struggled on the offensive end. I thought we did a pretty good job on the offensive end for the most part tonight, we scored 72 points on the road, 16 assists, we cut down on turnovrers, but they made some tough shots. Once they get going, this is a fun home court advantage. I thought those guys really wanted to go out with a bang."
On if he foresees his young guys playing like St. John's seniors: "I'm looking at Saturday [next game against Creighton]. I never look that far ahead. I think you've got to give D`Angelo [Harrison], [Sir`Dominic] Pointer, [Phil] Greene, and even [Jamal] Branch because Branch has sacrificed a lot since he transferred here, you've got to give those guys a tremendous amount of credit. They've gone through some good times and they've gone through some bad times, but they come out and they ball every game. I give those players a lot of credit for battling and staying, D`Angelo has had his issues but to watch him play now is a lot of fun. That's a kid that's on one leg and is giving everything he's got. I look at their group, it's tough to tell the future, you look at the past and you've got to give those St. John's kids a lot of credit."
His message for the guys going into this week: "Practice."
On if the booing affected Whitehead: "I don't think it affected him at all. He's a tough kid, I don't think that affected him. He had some good looks that he missed early. It it had affected him, I don't think he would have had such a good second half."
Analyzing St. John's: "They're an NCAA tournament team. This is a team that's senior-laden, they've had good wins."
On how Whitehead is handling criticism: "He's handling it just fine, he's going through it a little bit, but he's showed up to work every day, he's working hard, he's practicing hard, he's got a good attitude. He's just a normal freshman right now thats struggling at times. As far as all the the outside influences, we know what's false and what's true and what's been said and pretty much what's has been said is false. He's just trying to get his game back and it's tough to do with six games left in the Big East conference."
On if Whitehead struggling will help in the long run: "Absolutely. It's good to go through tough times. Everyone goes through tough times in life, it's how you deal with them and how you bounce back. He's a tough kid, he'll bounce back and I think he's already bouncing back pretty decently, he's already starting to come around."
On the team's frustration level: "We just have to find a way to win, find a way to defend. We lost focus on defense, our defense was winning us games, instead it was our offense [Brandon was trying to say offense and defense has lost the team games at different times...] We're at our best when we can get stops and get out on the break."
On St. John's experience making a difference: "It made a huge difference, at one point we had four freshmen and a senior on the court and they had a lot of seniors that have played together for four years. It's tough playing on the road in this league."
On the next week giving the team a mental break: "I think everybody is still together, everybody is upbeat and everybody is positive, which is a good thing. Through the good times and the bad times, we just stick together."
His message to the freshmen to keep their heads up: "I just tell them to keep playing, try not to think too much, just ball. Sometimes they tend to overthink things, if you just got out there and play your game and don't worry about making mistakes you'll be alright and for the most part that's what they've been doing."
On Jamal Branch's performance: "Jamal Branch, I thought it was a real life or a spark, the game kind of pivoted on those couple of shots [...] and the 2-3 zone was our tourniquet [late in the second half]."
The impact of Seton Hall playing without Sina and Gibbs: "Without Gibbs and without Sina, those are two players that can stretch the floor and knockdown shots from range ... they're shotmakers and they're playmakers. They were two of the keys to our defeat on New Year's Eve when they whacked us. They are a completely different team. Gibbs is the central nervous system and Sina is a spot-up player that is very basketball-savvy ... They've just had a disjointed season just like our own."