Seton Hall crushes Georgetown, showing that their NCAA story wasn't so crazy after all
It has been an improbable year for Seton Hall basketball, a program expected to finish 13th in the 16-team Big East Conference in the preseason poll of the league's coaches.
First the Pirates stormed out to a 15-2 start, destroyed then-eighth-ranked Connecticut, and compiled a 4-1 conference record as of Jan. 10. Seniors Jordan Theodore, a lightning-quick point guard unafraid to shoot, and Herb Pope, a smooth interior finisher and solid rebounder, looked ready to take Seton Hall back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005-06, and the Pirates joined the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2000-01.
Then came six losses in a row, some understandable—at 15th ranked Marquette, for instance, or at home to number 17 Louisville and number 18 Notre Dame—others less so, like a loss at Villanova.
Then Connecticut came back and crushed Seton Hall, 69-46, leaving them with a 4-7 Big East record and scant tournament hopes.
Three league wins against lesser lights Rutgers, Pittsburgh and St. John's helped even Seton Hall's conference record, results again opponents like those only carry so much weight with the tournament selection committee.
So entering Tuesday night's game against Georgetown, the eighth-ranked team in the country, the math for Seton Hall was simple: Win and they're likely in, if they can follow up by holding off Rutgers and at DePaul at home; lose, and they'd need divine intervention to get there.
Not only did Seton Hall capture that win, 73-55, before 8,111 surprised fans at the Prudential Center in Newark, they absolutely throttled a Georgetown team that had entered the game playing as well as any team in the country. The biggest reason was Theodore, a player who has been talking about getting to the NCAA tournament since the preseason, when it seemed like mostly fantasy.
Theodore scored 29 points, shot 8-of-11 from the field, a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range, added five assists, and did so against a Georgetown team that had been holding teams to 27-percent shooting from long range.
“He played fantastic,” said a visibly joyful Kevin Willard, in just his second year at the helm for Seton Hall, in his press conference following the game. “That's probably the most complete game a guard has played in the league, in terms of points, assists and defense.”
Theodore's game wasn't just a few long-range shots. An example of the way he imposed his will came with seven seconds to go in the first half, and Georgetown within five points. Theodore took the ball near his own basket, drove the length of the floor, and drew a key second foul on Georgetown center Henry Sims as he went up for a layup. His two free throws gave the Pirates a seven-point lead at the break.
Theodore was hardly alone. Against the normally stifling Georgetown defense, Seton Hall shot 61 percent as a team, 61.5 percent from three-point range. They committed just eight turnovers all night, and completely flummoxed the potent Georgetown attack. The Hoyas did not have a single player reach double figures in points.
“That's one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Willard pointed out. “So to execute the way we did, and to keep them in check the way we did, that was excellent.”
The crowd was relatively muted at first. Though roughly the same size as the Connecticut crowd last month, the electricity took a while to return. Back then, the Pirates were a team on the rise; after the losing streak, it was as if Seton Hall needed to prove they were legitimate even to their own fans.
But after Georgetown's Hollis Thompson hit a three-pointer early in the second half to cut Seton Hall's advantage to just 39-33, the Pirates went on a 13-5 run that included eight points by Theodore. He concluded that run with a long three-pointer, lingering in his pose for a few seconds to take in a shot that probably gave him passage into March Madness for the very first time.
After the game, surrounded by reporters ready to write that story he'd been pitching since Big East Media Day, Theodore declared exactly what this performance meant to him and his program.
“I’ve been dreaming about the dance,” he said. “I’ve had experience of being on the bubble my sophomore year—losing to Notre Dame and having to go to the NIT—and I didn’t want that to happen again tonight. I didn’t want to lose and have to watch ESPN and be in that ‘Last Four Out.’ I want to be able to look at ESPN or wherever and hear people say that we're in."