Updated: Jan 26
Posh Alexander/Bob Dea
It’s been 35 years since a Big East Conference game has been played on Seton Hall’s campus. Monday, it looked like Seton Hall would gladly wait another 35 years before playing one again.
St. John’s strolled onto campus in South Orange and dominated the Pirates from the opening tip to the final buzzer in front of a stunned crowd of only students at Walsh Gym. The Red Storm gave the Pirates no opportunity to get the buzzing pregame crowd going and got a split on the home and home series the two teams have played in the last three days with a resounding win over Seton Hall by the score of 84-63.
Tonight’s game was supposed to be played on December 21st but due to Covid protocols, it was delayed until tonight. Because of the rescheduling, the Pirates usual home floor, the Prudential Center, had a previously scheduled concert so it was up to Seton Hall to improvise. The administration and the team decided to have a students-only game against their rivals from the other side of the Hudson River at their on-campus gym. Usually, the Pirates fit in a non-conference opponent in Walsh Gym to give their students a chance to see the team without taking a bus ride to Newark. Tonight was an opportunity to drum up some ghosts of their Big East past with one of their old coaches (Bill Raferty) doing the color commentating for the national Fox Sports broadcast. All the elements were in place for a fun, historic night. The only problem was the home team decided not to show up. In an embarrassing performance in front of the entire student body, the Pirates had their worst game of the season and one of the most embarrassing losses in the Kevin Willard era.
After beating St. John’s last Saturday at Madison Square Garden, the Prates looked nothing like that same team tonight. The Red Storm clearly made the necessary adjustments in order to dominate the Pirates. St. John’s didn’t have a team meeting but they watched the loss together on Sunday and looked for the opportunities they missed on Saturday. They realized that if they pressed the Pirates earlier on defense, they could force turnovers and get easy shots. Red Storm coach Mike Anderson decided to go deep off of his bench and not start Posh Alexander on Monday. They were motivated to get their first road win of the year after underperforming so far this year in conference play. With expectations high this season in Queens, it was almost a now or never scenario for the Red Storm to make their move in the conference and they took it tonight.
For Seton Hall it was as disappointing a loss because they let down their home crowd. Myles Cale acknowledged that St. John’s played harder than them tonight. Willard thought the Red Storm’s defensive pressure was “phenomenal” and gave the Red Storm credit for controlling the tempo of the game. “Aaron Wheeler was the biggest difference in the game”, Willard said about the St. John’s forward. Wheeler had 17 points for the Red Storm and was a force on both the offense side and a nuisance on the defensive side of the floor. Alexander led all scorers with 19 points to go along with 7 rebounds. Remarkably, the Red Storm’s best scorer, Julian Champagnie, was held to just 5 points tonight.
As far as playing at Walsh Gym goes, tonight could be a one-and-done for the Pirates. “I don’t like playing here”, Willard said of playing on campus tonight. “In some ways it benefit’s them (Red Storm). St. John’s is used to playing in a bandbox at Carnesecca Arena. I rather play at the Prudential Center.”
There is no rest for Seton Hall as they have a red hot Marquette team coming to their normal home court on Wednesday. At 3-5 in Big East Conference play, this once-promising season is in danger of slipping away. At this point in late January, there’s little room for error anymore. A group that is this deep and talented as this year’s team not making the NCAA Tournament would be akin to committing coaching malpractice. If the Pirates don’t right their ship quickly, that scenario very well could happen. As much as Willard may not enjoy playing at Walsh Gym, the sight of students leaving it midway through the second half I hope sticks with the players and the coaches. This relationship between the student body and the team is not unconditional. The students at least showed up tonight. Willard and his team did not.