A buzzer-beater and a blowout. This was a get-well week for Seton Hall, which responded to a mini-slump with a two badly needed victories.
It started with Wednesday’s exhilarating victory over No. 21 Butler on Sandro Mamukelashvili’s basket at the horn. It continued Sunday with a rare wire-to-wire win, a thorough 81-65 beating of St. John’s at Prudential Center. Now comes the tough part: Three games against ranked teams, two of which are on the road, as the 16th-ranked Pirates, having reached at least 20 wins for the fifth straight season, look to win their first Big East regular-season crown since 1993.
Seton Hall’s widest margin of victory since a 16-point win over Georgetown on Jan. 3 wasn’t flawless as it remained a game ahead of Creighton and Villanova — two of its final three opponents — atop the league. Star senior’s Myles Powell’s shooting woes continued — he made just 6 of 18 shots, though he did add five rebounds and four assists — and the Pirates (20-7, 12-3 Big East) did allow 16 second-chance points. But they were far better than they have been at the start, leading by double figures early on. Their defense was strong, and they handled the Johnnies’ pressure, which had created so much trouble for them in the first meeting between the two locals.
As in the win against Butler, there was balanced scoring — Powell led five teammates in double figures with 18 points — selfless play (19 assists on 27 field goals) and an aerial show that included six alley-oops. Big men Mamukelashvili and Romaro Gill had their way in the paint, combining for 28 points and 15 rebounds. The 6-foot-11 Mamukelashvili was particularly effective handling the St. John’s press, creating easy opportunities for his teammates when the guards were forced to give up the ball.
Seton Hall shook off the concerning recent trend of slow starts, racing out to a 16-6 edge just 7:31 in following a Quincy McKnight 3-pointer. The lead grew to 14 after a Mamukelashvili slam and was 17 when Mamukelashvili scored inside again. St. John’s (14-13, 3-11), meanwhile, couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, missing 17 of its first 20 shots from the field. Unlike the first meeting, when the Red Storm’s press led to easy opportunities in transition, St. John’s was stuck mostly in the half-court, where Seton Hall’s length forced it onto the perimeter. That’s not this shooting-challenged group’s strong suit, as the Johnnies shot just 24 percent from the field.
LJ Figueroa led St. John’s with 18 points and Julian Champagnie added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
It was 36-22 at the half, despite Powell shooting just 2 of 9 for five points. But seven teammates scored, the same balance the Pirates received in the win over Butler. St. John’s came out hot in the second half, scoring the first five points of the stanza. It got within seven after a Champagnie layup. But like flicking on a switch, Seton Hall locked back in, ripping off a 17-8 run to go back up 16 after consecutive Gill alley-oop dunks. The result was never in doubt the rest of the way.