GREENVILLE, S.C. – “It’s always going to end. It’s always difficult when it ends.”
That quote from Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard in the postgame press conference summed up his feelings. He certainly couldn’t have seen the ending coming, though.
Seton Hall led by six points with 6:47 to play, before a closing stretch in which it scored just three points over those final minutes. The Pirates eventually fell, 77-71, to Arkansas in NCAA first-round tournament play.
The action began with a frantic first half that saw the teams head to the locker room tied at 37. Seton Hall started rather icy from the floor, hitting just two of its first seven shots. The Pirates’ physicality on the boards paid dividends in the opening stanza, as they outrebounded the Razorbacks, 25-16. 11 of those boards came on the offensive end, keeping alive possessions and countering Arkansas’ shooting prowess. After an 8-for-11 start by the Razorbacks, Seton Hall limited Arkansas to just six of its final 20 in the first half.
Seton Hall (21-12) charged out of the locker room and knocked down two quick buckets, building a five-point lead. Arkansas (26-9) quickly countered, however, drawing the game level on a Dusty Hannahs trey and Dustin Thomas layup. Separation proved elusive for both sides through much of the next few minutes, before a 5-0 Thomas run gave his side a five-point advantage.
The back-and-forth battle locked back in, before a 14-4 Pirate burst gave Seton Hall its biggest lead of the game. The eight-point margin at the 9:29 mark was gradually cut in half, with a pair of Angel Delgado free throws providing the Pirates the aforementioned six-point lead with just under seven minutes to play.
From there, though, the advantage dwindled – and eventually disappeared – in a maddening stretch that saw an 8-0 Arkansas burst finally put the Razorbacks ahead, 70-68, on a Kingsley bucket at the 2:40 mark. Seton Hall’s players had few available answers for the burst after the game.
“We just had a few costly turnovers down the stretch that cost us,” said Seton Hall guard Madison Jones, “but other than that, that’s pretty much (it).” Delgado added, “We just gotta take care of the ball more.”
Even still, the Pirates found themselves with a chance to win the game, trailing by just a point with 18 seconds remaining. A loose ball turned into a controversial flagrant foul call on Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez, as he attempted to stop an Arkansas runout. The call was the subject of much of the post-game conversation, as opinions varied on the call’s validity.
“I didn’t know he was going to push me like that. I never felt like that. I was surprised he pushed me like that,” said Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford, who converted on the two free throws he received as a benefit of the flagrant call. “But I don’t know if he was trying to make a play on the ball or what, but it came in our favor. I knocked down two free throws, and it helped out a lot.”
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson had a bit of a different view.
“I thought it was no play on the ball. That’s as simple as that. There was no play on the ball. He pushed the guy down. You saw it. I saw it. I mean, what’s borderline when you say, you know what, he didn’t play on the ball,” said Anderson. “So it just came at a bad time, probably the right time for us. But I just didn’t think there was a play on the ball.”
Rodriguez refused comment on the call when meeting with reporters after the game.
The free throws provided Arkansas with an advantage from which Seton Hall could draw no closer, as Arkansas advanced to Sunday’s round of 32 play. The Razorbacks will play North Carolina in that contest, with the game time not yet determined.
Khadeen Carrington paced Seton Hall with 22 points, leading five Pirates in double figures. The contest was his 12th game with 20-plus points, and 29th game in double figures. Angel Delgado added 12 points and 13 boards, recording his 28th double-digit game this season and 50th career double-double. Jones talied 11, while Rodriguez and freshman Myles Powell poured in 10 apiece. Seton Hall also posted its second-highest offensive rebound total this season, hauling in 21 offensive boards.
Kingsley led Arkansas and all scorers with 23 points, adding six boards. Barford posted 20 points and seven boards, while Hannahs added 14 and Thomas 13.
Seton Hall concludes its season with a 21-12 record. Willard expressed excitement for his program’s future as he wound down his remarks to the media. “It’s going to be tough for them. It’s hard when you lose,” said Willard. “But that’s hoops, man. That’s ball. It’s life. You’ve got to bounce back, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys, how we’ll do and how we’ll bounce back next year.”
#8 ARKANSAS 77, #9 SETON HALL 71
SETON HALL (21-12): Nzei 2-5 2-2 6, Rodriguez 4-17 1-5 10, Delgado 4-11 4-5 12, Carrington 8-17 3-5 22, Jones 4-8 3-4 11, Powell 4-9 0-0 10, Sanogo 0-1 0-0 0, Anthony 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-68 13-21 71.
ARKANSAS (26-9): Thomas 6-9 1-2 13, Kingsley 10-13 2-2 23, Barford 8-17 4-5 20, Hannahs 3-8 6-6 14, Watkins 0-3 0-0 0, Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Macon 1-7 5-8 7, Cook 0-1 0-0 0, Beard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-60 18-23 77.
Halftime — Tied, 37-37. 3-Point Goals—Seton Hall 6-17 (Rodriguez 1-5, Carrington 3-6, Jones 0-1, Powell 2-5), Arkansas 3-7 (Kingsley 1-1, Barford 0-1, Hannahs 2-3, Watkins 0-1, Macon 0-1). Fouled Out — Delgado (SH). Rebounds — Seton Hall 46 (Delgado 13), Arkansas 32 (Barford 7). Assists — Arkansas 13 (Hannahs 3), Seton Hall 10 (Rodriguez/Delgado/Carrington/Powell 2). Total Fouls — Arkansas 20, Seton Hall 18. Technical — None. A — NA.
Points in the Paint —Seton Hall 36, Arkansas 32. Points off Turnovers —Arkansas 16, Seton Hall 9. Second-Chance Points — Seton Hall 14, Arkansas 4. Fast Break Points —Arkansas 9, Seton Hall 6. Bench Points — Seton Hall 10, Arkansas 7.