NEWARK, N.J. -- Two teams headed in opposite directions -- at least this season -- met at the Prudential Center on Tuesday night.
After Seton Hall’s 94-64 annihilation of St. John’s, two things are clear. The Pirates are on course for the NCAA Tournament, while the Red Storm is crawling to the finish line.
This game was tight for the first eight minutes and change, with St. John’s trailing by just one, 16-15. After that, it was no contest, thanks primarily to Seton Hall burying 15 of its 24 3-point attempts, including 10 of 12 in the second half.
Six different Pirates connected at least once, led by senior point guard Jordan Theodore, who was 4-for-6 from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 16 points and 10 assists.
“What happened was, it was just an avalanche of confidence for them,” said St. John’s coach Mike Dunlap. “They probably could have had their manager on the floor and hit a 3, because everybody was shaking and baking.”
“The difference between Seton Hall this year and last year is their ability to have more guys who can shoot the ball,” added Dunlap. “You can tell that that will help them in the backstretch, because they’re not as dependent on one or two players to win games.”
The Pirates are led by the senior tandem of Theodore and power forward Herb Pope (10 points, 10 rebounds). But coach Kevin Willard continues to get increased production from his younger supporting cast. Shooting guard Aaron Cosby (14 points, 5 assists), forward Brandon Mobley (14 points, 9 rebounds) and reserve Haralds Karlis (13 points) -- all freshmen -- made big contributions Tuesday night.
“We took good shots,” Willard said. “I really like the way the ball is hopping around right now and guys are getting shots.”
The Pirates (18-8, 7-7 Big East) have now won three in a row, after losing six straight from mid-January to early February. Willard said a long stretch at home -- two straight games at Prudential, after a short trip to Rutgers -- has been key to his team’s resurgence.
“We’ve been at home practicing now since three days before the Rutgers game,” Willard said. “I think that’s been a huge bonus for us. Before that, I just felt we were on the road constantly.”
The mood in the Seton Hall locker room after the game was jovial, buzzing with talk about the NCAA Tournament, a place the Pirates haven’t been since 2006. Theodore, facing his last chance to make the Big Dance, said he is “desperate” to get there. “Honestly, it really does feel close. But I can’t taste it yet,” Theodore added. “And I say that because we still have [four] games left in the [regular] season.
“My only focus right now is Cincinnati [on Saturday], ‘cause I know we’re going up against a great basketball team, a physical basketball team, who’s gonna bring it, and they’re trying to get to the same place we are.”
The St. John’s players were feeling very differently after the game, after suffering their fourth straight defeat, three of which have been by more than 20 points.
“I wouldn’t say we’re down. But we’re not up like we should be,” said forward Sir’Dominic Pointer. “We’re taking the loss kinda hard, especially losing by so much to a rivalry team.”
The Red Storm played very well in a 71-61 defeat at No. 11 Georgetown on Sunday, but couldn’t muster the same energy or enthusiasm two days later.
“I think it was more mental than it was physical,” said Dunlap. “Coming off the Georgetown game, where we regrouped and had a fine game, I just think that they’re a little thinner at this particular juncture because of uncharted waters for the pups.”
Forward Moe Harkless led the way with 15 points and 11 rebounds, with shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison adding 12 points but shooting just 4-for-15 from the field. And the body language from the team as a whole wasn’t nearly as positive as it normally is.
To their credit though, the St. John’s players continue to decline to make excuses, despite the fact that they only have a six-man team.
“We’re playing a ton of minutes, but fatigue is not an excuse,” Pointer said. “To come out here and say we’re fatigued, that’s the reason why we lost? That’s not it. That’s not why we lost. We lost because we picked our poison and they hit 3’s. That’s why we lost.”
St. John’s is now 10-16 overall, and 4-10 in the Big East, with five games to go in the regular season. And with the NCAA Tournament no longer in the picture, the freshmen are beginning to talk more about the future beyond this season, when hopefully they have reinforcements.
“It’s getting us prepared for the long run,” said point guard Phil Greene of the current tough stretch. “We just gotta stay with it, keep grinding, keep grinding. Eventually it’ll pay off.”