by Josh AdamsFollow @ncaahoopsdigest
PHILADELPHIA- A win 26 years in the making happened on Saturday afternoon in front of a jam packed house at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Not since 1994 have the Seton Hall Pirates traveled down the New Jersey Turnpike and come back from a game against Villanova with a win. 1994. For some perspective, Allen Iverson had yet to step foot on the basketball court for the 76ers in this building. Grunge music was just coming into it’s own. The internet? Yeah, we had dial-up if you were lucky. Now in 2020, the Pirates keep making program history by defeating Villanova 70-64 and building their case as a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament while going 6-0 on the road in conference play.
This year’s Seton Hall team was not intimidated by the home Villanova crowd and they showed it early by jumping off to a fast start and taking the crowd out of the game early. Sandro Mamukelashvilli got the starting nod over Jared Rhoden and that move paid dividends throughout the game.
Villanova was ice cold to start the first half with only Jermaine Samuels keeping them in it. Samuels shot 4/5 from the field in the first half while his teammates shot a frigid 1 for 19 in the first 10 minutes of the opening stanza. The crowd was stunned as the Pirates were in control of the pace of the game early.
It took a little while but Villanova finally found their footing as they went on a 6-0 run to ignite the crowd and eventually took the lead into halftime thanks to Samuels and Saddiq Bey’s play. It was quite a turnaround for the half as the Pirates looked stunned as they walked into the tunnel as Villanova had all the momentum going into halftime.
As this season has shown over and over again, the Pirates are not just the Myles Powell show. The role players that Seton Hall has on it’s roster have made some big shots and former walk-on Shavar Reynolds hit a three early in the second half that gave the momentum back to the Pirates. Reynolds as well as Jared Rhoden not only made key baskets to start the second half, they also played exceptionally well on defense in keeping Villanova’s Collin Gillespie in check and locking down Samuels in the second half.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright paid the ultimate compliment to the Seton Hall team as a whole after the game. ” (Myles) Powell wouldn’t be getting the points he gets if the teams didn’t respect the other guys on the team.” The player who definately got Wright and Villanova’s respect was Mamukelashvili today. Not known as a three point shooter, the 6’10” versatile forward from the Republic of Georgia went 3-5 from the three point line and had a final line of 17 points and 8 rebounds.
The Pirates as a whole managed a 21-9 edge in rebounds over Villanova. As the game chugged along in the second half, it became a chess match as both Wright and Willard put the ball in the hands of their best players. (Bey and Powell) When Powell was called for his fourth foul at the 9:31 mark in the second half it looked like a turning point for Villanova. The role players for Seton Hall stepped up their defense in Powell’s absence as the Pirates maintained their slim lead as the clock started to run out on the Wildcats. As a stunned sold-out crowd streamed to the exits of the Wells Fargo Center, a “Let’s Go Pirates” chant echoed off the ceiling as the fans who traveled to Philly reveled in the historic victory as Seton Hall claimed a 70-64 victory.
Willard downplayed the win after the game. He didn’t seem to embrace any sort of nostalga after beating Villanova at home for the first time since Kurt Cobain was the front man in Nirvana. “You know me, I’m just happy that we’ll have cheesesteaks on the bus after the game.” Willard said to the press of snapping the 26 year losing streak. “I’m not concerned about history. We’re living in the moment.”
It’s a moment where Seton Hall has a comfortable three game lead in the Big East and has a perfect road record (6-0) in the Big East Conference. A moment that in a month could reward the Pirates with a high seed in the NCAA Tournament and a possible spot in Albany to start the tournament. It’s a team that has made history even if they don’t want to dwell on it. It took a player like Powell and the right mix of role players to end this streak. It’s a team that didn’t act like they won the national championship just because they got a Big East road win. ”
We’re not always pretty but we’re going to play extremely hard.”, Willard said about his team’s mentalitiy after the win. “All my guys take on the personality of what we need to do to win.”
This was a huge program win today in Philadelphia for Seton Hall. I bet those cheesesteaks are delicious on the bus on the way back to South Orange tonight.