by Josh Adams
NEWARK- After three consecutive starts where the Seton Hall Pirates fell behind by double digits to start the first half, today’s mission against St. John’s for the Pirates was a fast start and contain the Red Storm’s LJ Figueroa.
On a beautiful Sunday before a packed house at the Prudential Center as the program saluted the 1979-80 team, it was an “old-school” approach of defense and unselfishness on offense that helped the Pirates cruise to a 81-65 victory over St. John’s on Sunday.
After Wednesday’s epic buzzer beater against Butler, Sandro Mamukelashvili picked up where he left off, collecting five points and three rebounds in the first three minutes of the game. Mamu and Romaro Gil worked in tandom to keep any sort of St. John’s drive in check and contained Red Storm star LJ Figueroa to three points for the bulk of the first half. On the other side, St. John’s did a decent job defending Myles Powell as they held the preseason All-American to 2-9 from the field as his first half struggles continue.
It’s tough to say how much of an impact Gil has on a game when he gets going. When you have a player of his caliber who can cause players to pump fake on a layup even when he’s sitting on the bench. On offense, he is able to dunk on dime, using his wingspan and frame to render the defense helpless as they watch another stuff go through the hoop.
Seton Hall took a 36-22 lead into the locker room as the Pirates contained the Red Storm offense. St. John’s had no answers to the interior duo of Gil and Mamu. The strength of Seton Hall was on full display as they looked every bit the team that was in the top 10 of the country last week.
The second half started with a nice run by the Red Storm as they trimmed Seton Hall’s lead to 7 before the Pirates regrouped on consecutive dunks by Gil and a three pointer from Jared Rhoden that made the crowd of 14,648 breathe a sigh of relief as the Pirates continued to build a sizeable lead. Powell eventually settled in nicely as he got his groove back in the second half and ended with 18 points. “We tried to to limit LJ (Figueroa) and I think we did a real good job of that.” Powell said after the game.
St. John’s coach Mike Anderson was complimentary of Seton Hall and Mamu’s performance today. After staring at the stat sheet on the podium, Anderson broke out a big smile while trying to pronounce Mamukelashvilli and said, “That big kid, Sandro, I know his name now.”
Mamukelashvilli ended the game with 16 points and Gil was perfect from the field (6-6 mostly dunks) with 12 points in the win.
There’s a gauntlet waiting for Seton Hall in the next three games. They have to travel to Milwaukee this Saturday for senior night at Marquette, then follow that with senior night in Newark at home against Villanova and then finishing the year at Creighton.
When asked about the final three games, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard welcomed the challenge of it. “There’s no hiding anymore.”, Willard said about the remaining schedule, “It’s three great opportunities to solidfy where we’re going to be seeded in the NCAA Tournament, gives us a chance to win the Big East Championship and also gives us a chance to get a great seed in the Big East Tournament. Three great opportunities.”
Powell told the press he’s been dealing with a little tendonitis in his right knee. He was looking forward to getting a week off before the three game gauntlet to get some treatment. “It hurt sometimes depending on what I do on the court”, Powell told me after the game. He refused to blame his shooting woes on his injury though.
With this win, Kevin Willard becomes the first coach in New Jersey Division 1 history to record five straight 20 win seasons. “It means Myles Powell is a hell of a player”, Willard deadpanned afterwards when told of the stat. Powell predicted Willard would downplay that accomplishment and told the press that Willard deserved every accolade coming to him. Powell’s last compliment for Willard is probably the one that every coach wants to hear from a senior.
“If I could pick schools again four years ago.” Powell said after the game, “I’d do it all over again. I love Coach Willard and I’m thankful to have him.”