Seton Hall suffers another setback

NEWARK, N.J. -- In a roller coaster season that's had more dips than climbs, Seton Hall took a free-fall Saturday night.

Up 54-41 with 11:20 to play, at home, the Pirates were outscored 20-5 the rest of the way and lost to UConn 61-59.

In reality, it was a 20-3 run -- Seton Hall scored a meaningless layup in the final second. Before that, the Pirates went eight minutes and 12 seconds without a field goal, scoring just a single free throw in that span while the No. 7 Huskies stole the game away.

"That ranks with anything that we've done this season," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun.

The Huskies (18-4, 6-4 Big East) did show tremendous heart and guts, coming all the way back. Kemba Walker -- the nation's fifth-leading scorer (23.4 ppg) -- did not have a good shooting night (7-for-19). But he simply willed his team to win, scoring 11 of his 19 points in the final 13:18 of the game, beginning right after Seton Hall took its biggest lead at 50-36.

Walker also hit the biggest shot of the game -- a 3-pointer with 2:32 left that put UConn over the hump, 58-57.

"Kemba really did a great job," Calhoun said. "This team is showing, to me anyways, everything you need from a competitive part. The growth, making more shots, rebounding better. I couldn't be prouder of 'em. It's just an incredible win for us."

An incredible win for UConn, and an incredibly demoralizing loss for Seton Hall. The Pirates (10-14, 4-8) have suffered through several tough defeats this season, highlighted by tight five-point home losses to Syracuse and Georgetown. But this one is surely the toughest to swallow.

First-year coach Kevin Willard was visibly upset after the game and limited his comments to less than three minutes.

When asked about the 8:12 stretch without a field goal, in which the Pirates missed nine consecutive shots (and two of their three free throws), Willard said, "We had some good looks that just didn't go down. I thought there was a couple bad shots there, but for the most part most of them were good."

When asked about the team's psyche heading into the final six games of the regular season, Willard said, "We have six seniors. So, that's what we just talked about -- we have six seniors, who are either gonna mail it in or they're gonna see what we're made of.

"Hopefully they won't [mail it in.] I don't think they will."

Calhoun was very complimentary of his younger counterpart after the game.

"He's gonna do everything the right way," Calhoun said. "He's got his team running offense -- when I come down here now, it's just so different. I'm not casting aspersions on anyone else, but this is -- Coach Willard's gonna be just an absolutely terrific coach.

"Quite frankly, I have incredible respect for him. It's gonna be tougher and tougher to beat him as the years go by."

Jeremy Hazell led Seton Hall with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four steals, but he shot just 7-for-22 from the field. And his 3-point attempt to tie the game with six seconds left was blocked.

"This was a tough loss," Hazell said. "We had it, we could have pulled it out. But we just had a couple mental breakdowns."

"I think my team played great today. We played tremendous for 40 minutes. But we just had a couple relapses in that 40 minutes, and that's what cost us the game."

It's fair to say his coach did not feel quite so positive about the performance.

The Pirates have a week off before facing in-state rival Rutgers in Piscataway next Saturday. Seton Hall lost at home to Rutgers, 66-60, on Jan. 22 -- one of eight losses Seton Hall has had this season by six points or less.

The players had little explanation for that fact in the immediate aftermath of this latest setback.

"Honestly, I have no idea," said guard Jordan Theodore. "I just think it just keeps happening to us."