BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It hasn’t been an easy week for Seton Hall by any stretch. They may lose one of their point guards, according to a report this week. Then they lost a starting forward to a foot injury that has them concerned for the future, and dropped a tough game on Friday night to Oklahoma that they seemingly had. That wasn’t a good start.
So when the Pirates fell behind late in the second half on Saturday night after leading for most of that frame, it looked like the end result could be more of the same. Certainly, being down 61-57 with 1:44 left added to that. But they came through down the stretch and pulled out a 68-67 win over Virginia Tech to take third place in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, salvaging the week.
“We played 39 good minutes last night,” said head coach Kevin Willard. “We played 40 good minutes tonight. We didn’t play well offensively tonight, but we played really well defensively and these are the things we have to do to win.”
Earlier in the week, a report in the New York Times said that sophomore point guard Tom Maayan may have to report to Israel for his three-year military obligation. The school had attempted to get him an exemption from it, and as he was selected to play for Israel’s under-20 national team for the European championships in July, the thought was that he got it. That’s not a done deal as of yet, and while an in-season departure would disrupt the team, Willard isn’t dealing with this as if it is a settled matter.
“There is no process for (playing without Maayan), just so you know,” said Willard. “He still has to get on an airplane.”
Seton Hall has a solution should Maayan leave, as Sterling Gibbs could be a difference-maker. He had a big night on Friday night with 26 points, and on Saturday the numbers weren’t good but the offense seemed to run very well when he was out there. Maayan is a perfectly good floor leader, especially if he continues to make himself a scoring threat like he did on Saturday night. At times thus far in his career, it’s been like playing four on five because he isn’t a scorer.
Seton Hall played Saturday without forward Patrick Auda, who had just scored a career-high 27 points in their prior game against Monmouth. Early in Friday’s game, the junior had an awkward landing on the foot where he broke a bone last year, and while the bone didn’t break again, Willard didn’t sound optimistic about the foreseeable future with him. He said they have to make sure the screw in the foot didn’t bend, which he said would be “a major issue.”
“We’re hoping, now that the swelling went down, that we just have to manage the injury,” Willard added.
The Pirates could have been in the second game of Saturday night. They led by six points with 32 seconds to go against Oklahoma a night earlier and had led all night, and two turnovers on inbounds passes had a key role in that. It was a very tough way to lose, and it challenged them to bounce back quickly. Fuquan Edwin said he was beating himself up about plays down the stretch. He wasn’t the biggest factor on Saturday night offensively, though he had 18 points (on 5-15 shooting), but he led the defense in a good effort.
The Pirates’ non-conference schedule gets easier from here on out, especially as six of their seven remaining games are at home. They won’t all be easy, as they get visits from LIU (albeit minus Julian Boyd) and Lafayette and go to arch-rival Rutgers, but the Pirates could easily come out of that stretch at least 5-2 or 6-1, which would put them at either 9-4 or 10-3 entering Big East play on New Year’s Eve. They won’t have the wins for an NCAA at-large bid out of non-conference, but they should be ready to compete in the Big East to try to get good wins there.
For now, Seton Hall has salvaged a tough week. If they take anything out of this week, it will be how they overcome adversity since they faced plenty of it and will face more as the season goes on like all teams do. There is enough talent on this team to win some games and surprise some people, although depth is a question mark, and if the confidence grows from more wins that will be another factor in their favor.