Seton Hall basketball rallies past St. John’s in gut-check road win
NEW YORK — Seton Hall’s basketball team in St. John’s on Wednesday night went through extensive vetting.
A 13-point deficit in a hostile arena.
Big foul issue due to a tight road whistle as tempers flared.
A sixth man injured.
The Pirates beat them all to stun St. John’s 84-72 in a wild and contentious contest that keeps them in pursuit of an NCAA Tournament berth.
“We just have the will to win,” said senior guard Al Dawes, who scored a game-high 21 points. “We just fight, no matter what.”
Hall is now 14-9 overall and 7-5 in the Big East after finishing the season sweep of St. John’s (14-9, 4-8). It was a Quad 2 victory that improved the Pirates to 5-4 on the road – a standout metric for the playoff resumption. They are one of only four teams in the Big East with a road record above .500. It’s the program’s first triumph at the Carnesecca Arena since 2010.
Considering the hurdles, this might have been Seton Hall’s most impressive victory of the season. Head coach Shaheen Holloway, usually measured after wins, couldn’t hide his satisfaction at the post-match press conference.
“I thought it was important to us,” Holloway said. “To come here, it’s a tough place to play – I didn’t know we haven’t won here for many years, 13 years.”
He even allowed himself the slightest smile as he said it.
FIVE POINTS TO REMEMBER1. Balance in the midst of temperaments
Tensions on the pitch reached a boiling point in the second half. St. John’s collapsed, with point guard Andre Curbelo ejected after chatting with Hall striker KC Ndefo, bumping the Ndefo after the whistle and then throwing his glasses away. A double technique was called before Curbelo was ushered into the dressing room as boos rained down on the pitch. It was a professional wrestling scene.
The room, on the other hand, remained collected. Even though Ndefo was stuck on the bench with four fouls following the double tech, he remained engaged with his teammates.
“I thought KC was awesome,” Holloway said. “Even when he was at fault he was there saying, ‘This is what we have to do, let’s not forget who we are, we are a defensive team’, those things.”
Ndefo finished with 10 points and four rebounds and was part of a group effort that kept St. John’s standout factor Joel Soriano to nine points on 2-for-8 shooting.
“I just told everyone to relax, not to play into their hands,” Holloway said keeping a cool head for the team. “We took good shots – Seton Hall shots, not ‘me’ shots.”
Holloway, who grew up five minutes from the St. John’s campus in the southern Jamaica section of Queens, also did her part. Despite the deluge of whistles that brought four of his players to the brink of disqualification 12 minutes from time, he never exploded against the officials. He skillfully rotated his staff, shielding the lads with four fouls until the result was decided. And he made a game-changing adjustment, moving to a game zone – just like he did when the Pirates came from 10-10 down to hit the Red Storm in Newark on Dec. 31.
“My assistants were yelling at me to do it, but we just had lineups that we never did it with, so I was a bit hesitant,” he said. “So we kind of went there and it slowed down the game, got us to where we needed to go.”
Seton Hall fans learn what Saint Peter devotees have witnessed over the past four years: Holloway is a top tactician.
2. High praise for Richmond
Kadary Richmond hails from Brooklyn and it shows. The point guard rose above the chaotic flood and produced a monster game: 15 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and three steals in 39 minutes.
“He’s the engine that keeps this team going,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said.
Richmond declined to say he was driven by geography, but credited Holloway with pushing the right buttons.
“He didn’t allow me to be mediocre or accept whatever comes,” the junior said. “He wanted more of me.”
Holloway was tough on Richmond. The day he was hired, they went to the gym in the evening, just the two of them. They had several heart-to-heart chats, few of which were warm and fuzzy.
“I’m on him everyday to be the player he wants to be,” Holloway said. “He has to bring it every day, in training and in games. I think he’s doing a better job of being more consistent with that. Tonight he was really good on the rebound, he controlled the game , he picked and picked his spots. I’m proud of him, but he still has a long way to go. All night I thought he was defending and not taking a break.”
One of the things they discussed — the idea, floated by his former coach at Syracuse (chronically complaining Jim Boeheim), that Richmond isn’t getting the job done.
“You have to understand the stigma that was on you before this year,” Holloway said. “It’s there, people listen to this, people read this, and you have to change that. And the way you change is the way you play every day, and that starts in training. And his credit, he realizes “I think he’s taken steps. He’s still not where he should be or where he wants to be, but those are steps.”
3. “Let’s Go Pirates”
As the final minute ticked away, a hearty chant of “Let’s Go Pirates” echoed through the Carnesecca Arena from three rows of blue-clad fans behind the Pirates bench.
“We loved it,” Dawes said. “We love that. We love our fans. We love the energy.”
It marked the Pirates’ first appearance at Carnesecca with fans in attendance since 2015. They arrived with just a 3-13 record in recent years. Anderson said that crowd, which was close to capacity of 5,600, was one of the most energetic in his four seasons at the helm.
It was awfully quiet on the stretch, with a disgruntled St. John’s fan yelling at Anderson from the field, “Pack your bags, Mike. It’s over!”
4. Dr. Davis absent, the subs intervene
Junior winger Dre Davis (9.1 ppg), who excelled in a sixth-man role, didn’t make the move after spraining his ankle in Saturday’s win at Butler. Forward Tray Jackson moved into the sixth man role, with Holloway using all nine available scholarship players.
Everyone contributed. Postgrad goaltender Jamir Harris had his best game of the season, recording 10 points, four assists and three rebounds off the bench. The North Brunswick native made a series of hustle plays that helped spark the rally. First-year guard Jaquan Sanders, whose time had been limited as the 10th man in recent weeks, scored five points in two minutes on the return. Jackson and freshman Tae Davis held firm in the paint when Tyrese Samuel and Ndefo went to the bench with foul issues.
“They were carrying a lot of energy and that’s what we preach,” Dawes said of the submarines.
Coaches love to talk about a “total team win”. It was exactly that.
“I’m throwing Tae Davis there at four, he’s never played there before,” Holloway said. a big three. He’s a guy who works and tries to be in stride and earn his place, and he’s playing there. And I thought Tray got into a fight too. Everyone who came into the game gave us something tonight.
5. Push for the dance
With a NET rating likely to be around 50, the Pirates are one big win away from appearing in Big Dance’s projected brackets. But first, they have to take care of home business against DePaul (9-14, 3-9) on Sunday after beating the Blue Demons by four in Chicago last month.
The 1988 NCAA Tournament Team – the first in program history – is hosting a reunion and will be honored shortly before the noon kickoff. Former head coach PJ Carlesimo and star center Mark Bryant, now an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns, headline the expected attendees.
The atmosphere should be festive. Winners of seven of their last nine, these Pirates come at the right time.
“We’re in a good headspace,” Dawes said. “I have a lot of momentum and I have to keep carrying it.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and college basketball since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 Voters. Contact him at [email protected].