PHILADELPHIA– 26 years.
It’s been 26 years since the last time Seton Hall beat Villanova on the Wildcats’ home floor.
Bill Clinton was President, Blue Chips just hit theaters, The Power of Love by Celine Dion was the #1 song on the Billboard charts and Toni Braxton by Toni Braxton was the #1 album on the Billboard charts.
A lot has happened since February 26 1994, when the Seton Hall Pirates led by P.J. Carlesimo took down Steve Lappas’ Villanova Wildcats at the original Pavilion by a final score of 70-59.
Fast forward to present day, Donald Trump (Yes, THAT Donald Trump) of all people is President, Roddy Ricch, who was born in 1998 (!!), has the #1 song and album on the Billboard charts, and the Kansas City Chiefs just won a Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
Maybe 2020 is the year of breaking droughts?
The 12th-ranked Seton Hall Pirates took down the 10th-ranked Villanova Wildcats at the Wildcats home away from home inside of an absolutely electric Wells Fargo Center by a final score of 70-64 on Saturday afternoon.
Finally, the 26 year losing streak is over.
“It’s more about this team and living in the present,” Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard said. “It’s more important right now about where we are in the standings, where we are in the seedings, it’s all about these kids
Sure, snapping a 26-year drought is fantastic for the Seton Hall program, but living in the present like Willard said, this game was more important than a drought.
Heading into this one, Seton Hall and Villanova were separated in the Big East standings by two games. If Villanova won, they would be only one game behind the first place Pirates with another matchup at their place in a month. Seton Hall wins? They extend their Big East lead to 3-games with about a month to go.
Well, the Pirates did just that and now they have a comfortable lead and the inside track to win the Big East for the first time since the 1992-93 season. But the job’s not finished at all.
“We still have eight games left in Big East play,” Willard said. We got Creighton twice, we still have [Villanova] at home, Butler at home, there’s a lot of basketball left.”
How did Seton Hall win this game?
Well, for starters, Seton Hall guard and National Player of the Year frontrunner Myles Powell was his usual self, dropping a team-high 19 points.
The key difference however was Seton Hall forward Sandro Mamukelashvili finishing with 17 points, hauling in eight rebounds and going 3-5 from downtown.
“I’ve always said Sandro is my security blanket whether it’s press offense, whether I can throw it to the post, whether I pick and pop him, he’s going to make a play.” Willard said.
There was a crucial stretch in the second half where Powell picked up his fourth foul with 9:31 to go and the Pirates holding onto a slim lead.
What were they going to do without their star? Would the various role players on Seton Hall step-up against the 10th-ranked team in the nation in a hostile environment?
Seton Hall shutdown any critic who thinks that they are “Myles Powell & co.” This team is for real.
“When [Powell] was out the two games against Maryland and Florida A&M, we didn’t have Sandro,” Willard said. “I thought I had so much confidence in that group out there because Sandro was out there, he’s a junior that’s been through it and he’s just starting now to get his confidence back and his groove back, it was huge and it just shows you what type of player and person Myles Powell is, the whole time he was calling plays, he was telling the guys what to do, it’s just the type of leadership he has, he has such great leadership at all times, he was instrumental in how that went even though he wasn’t out there.”
“I felt like we were going to win the game,” Powell said. “Me coming out, I stood up and said this should be our best defensive group right here, I never lack confidence and like I keep saying that’s the best part about this group, just like they have confidence in me, I have confidence in them.”
With a 10-1 record in Big East play and a three-game lead over the second place Wildcats, the Pirates are set-up to be major contenders in March if they weren’t already.
“We’re just gonna keep playing our basketball,” Powell said. “Our confidence is through the roof right now and I feel like that started when my guys got that win against Maryland without me.”
“I feel like me getting that concussion was the best thing to happen to this team so ever since then, everybody has been stepping up and doing whatever we need them to do and keep rolling.”
Looking at the Villanova side of things, (this is Trenton2PHILLY Hoops after all) the Wildcats needed this one.
Coming into Saturday’s contest at the Wells Fargo Center, Villanova were losers of two straight: An upset loss at home to Creighton last Saturday, and a buzzer-beating loss to Butler on Wednesday. They were also two games back of Big East leaders Seton Hall.
The enormity of this game couldn’t go unnoticed. It was a sellout crowd of 20,706. Fans for both schools packed the arena to the gills (It helps that Seton Hall’s campus is just an hour and a half away from the Wells Fargo Center). This place was buzzing just before tip-off and some moments during the game.
But ultimately, Seton Hall came into Villanova’s home away from home and silenced the electric crowd, and now the Wildcats find themselves three games back of a Big East regular season title and almost can’t afford to lose another game if they want to capture the regular season title and the #1 seed in the conference tournament.
“Seton Hall just played better than us,” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said. “We didn’t play poorly, they just played better, they’re playing better basketball as a team right now than us, we’re growing, we’re learning, and they’re a mature team, they’ve got a lot of answers, they got great experience, great leadership and they’re just a really good team, I think they’re one of the best teams in the country and we have to play better to beat one of the best team’s in the country and we didn’t today but we’ll be okay, we’ll get better.”
It was another slow start offensively for Villanova as they went 4-for-16 from the field for the first 10 minutes of the game. All four of those buckets came courtesy of Wildcats wing Jermaine Samuels, who had 10 points in that 10-minute stretch to start the game, but didn’t score since.
They did pick it up offensively in the second half of the first half. A Saddiq Bey dunk ripped the roof off of the Wells Fargo Center as the Wildcats had a 31-27 lead heading into the locker room.
But Seton Hall outscored Villanova 43-33 in the second half to give the Pirates the 70-64 victory.
“We just got to come back,” Villanova guard Collin Gillespie said. “It’s going to hurt right now, we’re going to comeback tomorrow, learn from it, watch film, fix our mistakes, onto the next one.”
It just seemed like a majority of Villanova’s missed shots in the first half went in-and-out and they were good looks too. But losing the rebounding battle 43-32 certainly doesn’t help either.
“It’s been one of the things we’ve struggled with,” Wright said. “You got young bodies, young players that physically get beat up a little bit and they’re used to being bigger and stronger and they’re not, now you got to have better technique and a little more toughness and Seton Hall’s got experienced guys and they get that.”
Freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (6-foot-9) did a good job underneath on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds while going up against Seton Hall’s 7-foot-2 monster Romaro Gill for a majority of the game, but it wasn’t enough, and Seton Hall’s height underneath got them some really important offensive and defensive rebounds down the stretch.
As previously mentioned, the stretch where Seton Hall guard Myles Powell was stapled to the bench with 4 fouls and just under 10 minutes to go in the game with the Pirates clinging onto a slim lead, was a game changer. Sure, Powell got his and finished with 19 points, just three points fewer of his 22 points per game average, but the Wildcats were unable to capitalize.
“That’s what makes them a great team, it’s not just Myles Powell,” Wright said. “And Myles Powell wouldn’t be getting the numbers he gets if the other team didn’t respect the other guys, even on nights when he has big numbers, it’s because the opponent has chosen to guard the other guys, we tried to shut him down a little bit and when you do that, other guys get loose.”
The Wildcats relied on Bey to shoulder the offensive load, and he did, scoring a game-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 4-of-6 from three. Gillespie chipped in with 12 points of his own.
Up next for the Wildcats is a game against Marquette at the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday at 8:30.
So how does Villanova stop this three-game slide?
“Once you go back to work, you don’t think about it as a three-game slide,” Wright said. “You do now, but once we go back to practice on Monday, we just think about next day, got to get better the next day, same way if we’re on a three-game winning streak, you’re not thinking about that, you just concentrate on your next game.”