No. 16 Seton Hall aims for sweep of slumping St. John’s

NCAA Basketball
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After Seton Hall’s loss at Providence on Feb. 15, Pirates coach Kevin Willard was steamed. On his postgame radio interview, he cited unnamed “bad attitudes,” and then he met with his team three times on Monday.

The idea was to avoid a February slump that could negatively impact the team’s NCAA Tournament seeding. The 16th-ranked Pirates hope to start another roll Sunday afternoon when they host St. John’s in Newark, N.J.

Seton Hall (19-7, 11-3 Big East) enters Sunday with a one-game lead in the Big East over Creighton, which beat the Pirates in Newark on Feb. 12. After that defeat, the Pirates trailed by 23 in the opening minutes against the Friars, were down by 14 at halftime and saw a comeback fall short in a 74-71 loss.

The loss to Providence that prompted Willard’s displeasure was part of a 2-3 stretch after Seton Hall won its first eight conference games and 10 games in a row overall. It also brought back reminders of 0-4 Big East slides the Pirates experienced in each of the previous two seasons, but the Pirates responded with a 74-72 home win over No. 21 Butler on Wednesday.

“(Willard) just let us have it,” Seton Hall guard Myles Powell told reporters after producing 16 points, five assists and six rebounds. “Nobody gave him attitude. We knew we did this to ourselves, that this is what we had to do to dig out of the hole. Everyone said we have to hit the reset button. We had all 13 guys buy in.”

The Pirates won on Sandro Mamukelashvili’s off-balance shot at the buzzer. With 0.6 seconds left, the junior forward caught an inbounds pass and made a 5-footer. It was a play where Powell was used as a decoy and one Willard drew up after seeing the Sacramento Kings succeed with it.

St. John’s (14-12, 3-10) enters in ninth place in the league due to a string of close losses in conference play. The Red Storm have six conference defeats decided by single digits due to their inability to finish games down the stretch.

The latest instance was a 77-74 home loss to Xavier on Monday at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s allowed the final eight points and was outscored 16-6 over the final 7:55.

“Just could not finish the last minute and a half the correct way,” first-year coach Mike Anderson said after his team shot 35.5 percent but forced 22 turnovers. “We may be taking some lumps right now, but we’re learning as we go.”

The loss to Xavier occurred a little over two weeks after St. John’s blew a 17-point lead at home to Georgetown and took a 73-72 loss. The Red Storm also squandered a 13-point halftime lead against Seton Hall by getting outscored 52-36 in an 82-79 home loss on Jan. 18.

The Red Storm are 1-1 since losing Mustapha Heron due to a season-ending ankle injury. LJ Figueroa leads St. John’s at 14.6 points per game but is shooting 37.9 percent and made just 2 of 17 on Monday while being held to eight points.

Seton Hall is 8-3 in the past 11 meetings with St. John’s. Powell scored 29 points in the Pirates’ comeback win last month in New York.

–Field Level Media

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