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Pirates Stunned by DePaul in Big East Tourney Opener 66-65

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The Seton Hall Pirates fell victim to the DePaul Blue Demons in the opening round of the BIG EAST Tournament 66-65 on Wednesday evening at Madison Square Garden in New York City in a game marred by turnovers, poor free throw shooting by the Pirates, and officiating that was questionable at a few points. Tyrese Samuel was one of four Pirates scoring double figures, leading the way with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Javan Johnson led the Blue Demons with 19 points mostly coming from long range with five three pointers.

DePaul started out the game hot from three-point territory, shooting 60% from beyond the arc in the first half. Despite the hot streak neither team opened up a big lead and there were a few big scoring droughts. A Javan Johnson three pointer with 12:02 left in the first half put the Blue Demons up 13-10 but Jamir Harris came back down the other end answering with a three pointer of his own for the Pirates. A layup and one by Samuel tied the score at 18 with 9:09 left.

After a Umoja Gibson runner put the Blue Demons up by two, KC Ndefo hit a three pointer to go up 21-20 and then neither team scored for the next three minutes. Ndefo hit another three pointer and a layup to go up 26-22, then DePaul went on a 7-0 run over the next three minutes. Al-Amir Dawes hit a driving layup to end the scoring drought, but DePaul held onto the lead going into halftime up 32-28.

In the second half after a quick DePaul basket to go up by 6, Seton Hall’s defensive prowess returned, and Dawes paced the Pirates on the offensive end scoring on 3 layups in a row to start a 18-3 Pirates run. Samuel went on a tear playing more physically in the second half, seemingly energized by a few officiating calls and no-calls where he felt like he was on the short end of the stick. Samuel threw down a thunderous dunk at the 13:11 mark in the middle of that 18-3 run as DePaul went nearly nine minutes without a field goal.

Johnson ended that scoreless drought with two three pointers to bring the Blue Demons back within 3 at 46-43 with 9:45 left to play. Another Harris three pointer put the Pirates back up 8 at 53-45 with about seven minutes left but the Pirates just could not pull away.

DePaul chipped away at the Seton Hall lead as the Pirates season long Achilles heel of poor free throw shooting and turnovers did them in. Samuel missed a pair of crucial free throws down the stretch and the Pirates were 11-18 from the stripe for the game in addition to 14 turnovers. The Pirates still had a five-point lead at 63-58 with a minute left, then the wheels fell off. Jalen Terry hit a three pointer to cut the lead to 2, then Dawes lost the ball at midcourt on the next possession as Johnson knocked into Dawes and stole the ball but no foul was called. Johnson passed up to Nick Ongenda who missed a dunk then the Blue Demons called timeout with 25 seconds left. Da’Sean Nelson picked up the ball and took a hook shot and missed with Jamir Harris coming up with the rebound and foul with 17.3 seconds left.

Harris made both free throws to put the Pirates back up 4. On the next possession Terry hit a quick layup that almost appeared as if the Pirates wanted to let him score so they did not risk fouling, cutting the deficit to 2 with 7.2 seconds left. Femi Odukale’s inbound pass was stolen, and Umoja Gibson took a three pointer and was fouled by KC Ndefo, putting Gibson at the line to make all three free throws to take the lead 66-65 with 3.9 seconds left. Odukale went coast to coast and got off a layup which was blocked by Umoja Gibson as time expired. The block was initially called as goaltending which would give Seton Hall the basket and the win. The officials reviewed the video and determined that Gibson got a clean block before Odukale’s layup hit the backboard. The officials did not review the clock although there appeared to still be a few tenths of a second left on the clock, giving DePaul the victory with a touch of controversy. You can judge for yourself here. Timestamp is already set up for you:

In the postgame press conference, Pirates coach Shaheen Holloway addressed the media by himself with no players on the podium with him:

“We had a chance to ice the game, but we had two killer turnovers right there at the end. It’s something we work on all the time too, that’s why I’m really upset because we know we’ve got to step to the basketball and be strong with it and we just couldn’t do it tonight.”

When asked about Femi Odukale’s play at the end, Holloway said “I thought it was good execution, we did everything except finish.” Unprompted, Holloway added “I thought when you hit the rim it’s goaltending, but I’m not an official so I don’t know.”

When asked about defensive issues, Holloway said “I don’t want to say defense was the issue tonight because it wasn’t. Going 11 for 18 from the free throw line, that’s an issue. Or having 14 turnovers, that’s an issue. But I thought our defense was solid. They made tough shots, tip your hat off to them.”

News and notes:

Kadary Richmond remained out with a back injury and Tray Jackson missed his second straight game with an ankle injury.
DePaul’s victory snapped a 12 game losing streak. Their last win prior to this game was over Xavier at home on January 18. This was also their first win away from home since December 3 at Loyola-Chicago.
Seton Hall (17-15) waits to see if they receive an NIT bid next week. Coach Holloway confirmed they would accept the bid if offered, saying “Yeah, if we got an opportunity to keep playing basketball, who wouldn’t? I’d love to.”
DePaul (10-22) moves on to play #2 seed Xavier in the Quarterfinals Thursday at 7pm.

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