Fitting end to Syracuse-Seton Hall series

Pirates center Kevin Johnson drives against Orange forward Rakeem Christmas in the 2nd half. Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY Sports

NEWARK, N.J. -- In a college basketball season full of endings, we said goodbye again Saturday night.

Seton Hall versus Syracuse drew 13,569 fans to the Prudential Center -- a record crowd for a Seton Hall game at The Rock. They watched the No. 6-ranked Orange defeat the Pirates, 76-65, in what will probably be the final meeting between the two schools, barring a matchup in next month’s Big East tournament.

These two teams -- two of the seven original members of the Big East -- have played each other 63 times dating back to 1948. But Syracuse departs for the ACC next year, and soon after, Seton Hall will depart as well, with the so-called Catholic 7.

It was only fitting that Syracuse finished on top Saturday, since it has dominated the series, winning 47 of 63.

The Orange actually trailed early, 21-12, after the Pirates started out hot from beyond the arc. But by halftime, Syracuse was back in front, 36-30.

Seton Hall battled gamely in the second half, refusing to fold after Syracuse went up by a dozen, 59-47. The Pirates cut the margin to six, 60-54, with just under six minutes remaining. But the Orange closed them out from there.

Senior guard Brandon Triche was the hero, pumping in a career-high 29 points and adding six rebounds and five assists.

“He really offensively kept us in the game early and made plays at the end,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He just had an unbelievable game tonight.”

Syracuse committed just four turnovers and outrebounded Seton Hall 42-32, including 20-9 on the offensive glass.

“You just can’t give a very good basketball team that many second shots,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.

The Pirates didn’t help their cause by making just 17 of 29 free throws (58.6 percent).

“That seems to have been one of our Achilles' heels -- not taking advantage of opportunities this season,” Willard said. “But they worked hard. It was good to see that we were able to get to the free throw line.”

These two teams are truly headed in opposite directions -- and not just in terms of conference affiliation. Syracuse (21-4, 9-3) is now in a three-way tie atop the Big East standings with Georgetown and Marquette.

Seton Hall (13-13, 2-11) has plummeted to second-to-last after its seventh consecutive loss. This is the Pirates’ longest losing streak since 2002.

“It’s tough,” forward Eugene Teague said. “You want to win bad, but it’s just not happening right now.”

Injuries continue to decimate the Seton Hall roster. Starting forward Brandon Mobley played against Syracuse, but is being shut down for the rest of the season and will have shoulder surgery, Willard revealed after the game. Swingman Brian Oliver also sat out Saturday night, with what Willard described as a “self-proclaimed” ankle injury.

“It’s one of those amazing injuries, that when a game appears, it kind of goes away and feels really good, and when practice appears it really hurts,” Willard said, in deadpan fashion. “We do have the New England Journal of Medicine coming to study him, because they wanna know how that’s possible. It’s quite amazing.”

The schedule doesn’t get any easier, either. The Pirates’ next two games are at home against No. 18 Marquette, followed by a trip to No. 12 Louisville. But Willard hasn’t lost all hope.

“I haven’t played a Big East game yet with a full roster,” Willard said. “As much as I hate losing, and I hate losing more than anybody else, I’m still very optimistic about where we’re going.”

As for the end of the Syracuse-Seton Hall series, Boeheim wasn’t feeling very nostalgic afterward. “You’re so worried about the game, you can’t think about that,” Boeheim said. “Every game is just incredibly tough in this league.”

Willard had a little more to offer.

“It’s a shame what will become of this conference -- eventually, there will no longer be a conference,” Willard said. “I think it’s a shame what has happened in the landscape of college athletics. But I like where we’re going.”

Syracuse versus Seton Hall -- you won’t hear that again anytime soon. Maybe ever again.

There have been better, fiercer rivalries, to be sure. But it’s still sad when things come to an end.