by Josh Adams
A Seton Hall team that looked dead on arrival, down 19 in the first half to Penn State somehow found one more gallon of gas in the tank as they pushed Penn State to overtime and prevailed by the score of 98-92.
In a game that had Sandro Mamukelashvili score a career high 30 points, the Pirates ended a week long odyssey that took them from Rhode Island then to Nebraska to play Oregon and then to State College to finish the roadtrip. The Pirates were in danger of falling to 1-4 for the season with a loss tonight and with Big East play starting at the end of the week there was little momentum building as the team already suffered through a Covid two week pause. It’s early to say that tonight was a must win but a victory over a Big 10 opponent on the road to end the week gave the Pirates a much needed jolt before they returned home.
“I’m really exicted for my guys. For being on such a tough road trip, for playing three tough teams, to get down the way we got down and to come back really showed a lot of heart”, said Kevin Willard after the game in an interview with the Seton Hall radio team. “It showed me a lot of what this team could become in the future.”
This was not a game for the weak of heart. Penn State looked to put the game away early behind 7 for 11 three point shooting in the first half and jumped out to a nineteen point lead. Seton Hall’s body language and getting beat on defense were the signs of a tired team. “The first 10 minutes, I think they were a little excited to go out there and play. I think they gassed themselves.” said Willard about the slow start. “Once they got their second wind, they setttled in and played a much better rest of the first half and second.” The Pirates trimmed the Nittany Lions lead to 11 at halftime
The Pirates had six players in double figures with key baskets from Shavar Reynolds and Takal Molson down the stretch in the second half with Reynolds hitting a three to basically put the game out of reach. “I think he (Reynolds) of staying aggresive. He’s working really hard defensively and that’s something we need from him and I think he in the second half did some great things for us on defense”, said Willard. Molson’s game was appreciated by Willard as well. “If he embraces that junkyard dog mentality, makes deflections, creates plays. The last couple games, he (Molson) has been that guy for us.”
The story of tonight’s win was Mamukelashvili. Every time he is on national TV, he earns nationwide respect. His freakish ability at 6’10” to handle the ball, make a well-timed assist and score at will must have NBA scouts drooling. Willard felt like he had to challenge him before tonight’s game. “I told him, I think you’re the best player in the country because you are. I shouldn’t have to remind you. It’s an attitude. You have to go out there and prove it every night. He’s growing into that role and I think he’s doing a great job of it.”
Seton Hall now returns home and plays Wagner on Tuesday. This season has already produced so many challenges that were out of the players and coaches control. The road trip that Willard scheduled may have been a self-imposed challenge but it’s one that he thinks will payoff down the road. “I needed to challenge this team”, said Willard about this trip “I needed to figure out where we could get better. The only way we would find that out is by playing high level teams.”
In the end home awaits in South Orange. There’s so much basketball to be played. It’s games like tonight that contributes to a team believing in one another. A trip like this pays off in March.