Seton Hall comes up short yet again

NEWARK, N.J. -- Another game against a ranked opponent at The Rock, another devastating defeat for Seton Hall.

This time around, it was No. 14 Villanova that broke the hearts of the Pirates and their fans, escaping with a 60-57 victory Tuesday night.

"It's tough when you come close and you lose," said Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell. "We know the Big East is tough -- whoever we play, it's gonna be a dogfight. But every game we come into, we think we're gonna win the game. Today was just a tough game."

Hazell, who was honored before the game for scoring his 2,000th career point Saturday night at Rutgers, did the best he could to push the Pirates over the hump, scoring a game-high 25 points. But he missed two shots in the final 13 seconds that could have tied the game.

The first, a runner in the lane, hit the backboard and rimmed out. Then, after Villanova's Antonio Pena hit one of two free throws to push a 59-57 lead to 60-57, Hazell missed a long 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard was asked about the second-to-last shot, which came after Willard called his final timeout to draw up a play.

"Jeremy driving to his right has a great knack of hanging [in the air] and making tough shots," Willard said. "He got a good look, he just missed it."

Seton Hall did some good things Tuesday night. The Pirates forced Villanova, which turns the ball over only 11.9 times per game (No. 40 in the nation) into 22 giveaways. And they fought back from a nine-point deficit, 57-48, with 5:34 to play.

But in the end, they were ultimately undone by the fact that Hazell got very little help from his teammates. Jordan Theodore scored 10 points -- no other Pirate had more than seven. And the Pirates shot just 4-for-26 from 3-point range.

Hazell accounted for all four makes, on 13 attempts. The rest of the team was 0-for-13.

"We're shooting too many threes at home," Willard said. "I think that's one of our biggest issues."

Defensively, on a night when Villanova was without its second-leading scorer, Corey Stokes (turf toe), Seton Hall still limited Villanova's first and third-leading scorers, Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns -- who normally account for 29 points per game -- to just 17. But 6-foot-5 freshman James Bell -- who was averaging just 1.8 points in 8.5 minutes per game -- erupted for a career-high 21, on 7-for-9 shooting, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range.

"James Bell killed us," Willard said. "He hit some really tough shots. I thought we did a good job on everybody else."

"A road win in the Big East -- what can I say?" said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "That's the nicest thing I can say about that game. The Pitt game [a 57-54 Villanova loss on Saturday] was one of the ugliest games ever, and so was this game, and the common denominator is us. But we just gutted it out."

Seton Hall (11-15, 5-9 in the Big East), on the other hand, is now 1-7 against ranked opponents this season, and 0-4 at home. But all four of those home losses have been excruciatingly close.

First there was the 61-56 loss to then No.4 Syracuse, in which Seton Hall trailed by only 55-53 with 2:20 to play. Then came an 80-75 loss to then-No. 23 Georgetown, in which Seton Hall led 52-45 with 12:13 to play. That was followed by a 61-59 loss to then-No. 7 UConn, in which Seton Hall led 50-36 with 13:59 to play. And then there's the latest body blow, versus Villanova.

If the Pirates had just been able to pull out two of these four games, they'd be .500 in conference play, and overall. And they'd still be in the mix for March Madness, despite Hazell missing 13 games earlier this season due to injury.

"We're just not getting a break, we're not getting a bounce," Willard said. "But I was really happy with their effort tonight."

"We're on the rise, but it's just hard right now, trying to get over that hump," Hazell said. "The last three, four minutes of the game -- that's really where we slack off a little bit. But we're getting together. It's coming."

Unfortunately, for Seton Hall and its at-large NCAA Tournament chances, time has just about run out.

Close is simply not good enough.