GETTING INSIDE Seton Hall plays Pittsburgh twice in a span of 13 days, beginning with a home game against the Panthers Sunday at 2 p.m. in Newark, N.J.
And one Pirates player in particular is looking forward to it.
"I get to show everybody in the City of Pittsburgh what they missed out on,'' Aliquippa, Pa. native Herb Pope said. The Seton Hall redshirt sophomore forward verbally committed to Pitt as a high school sophomore, but eventually re-opened his recruitment.
Pope eventually went to New Mexico State for one year before transferring to Seton Hall. He thought about Pittsburgh that time, too. Although the Panthers might not have wanted to deal with all the drama that has followed Pope the previous 3-4 years.
"It was an option for me,'' Pope said after Seton Hall's 80-77 victory against Louisville Thursday night. "I just never wanted to sit down and meet with Coach (Jamie) Dixon and put a game plan together.''
Now, Pope said he couldn't see himself playing Pitt's more deliberate style.
"I can't hold the ball for 32 seconds,'' he said with a smile.
That isn't a problem with Seton Hall's breakneck pace, but the Pirates almost blew a 12-point lead in the final 3:29 before hanging on to defeat Louisville. Seton Hall (11-6, 2-4 Big East) desperately needed a victory, or its NCAA Tournament hopes could've been finished already.
"Every game is a must-win in the Big East,'' Pope said. "Every win contributes to going to the (NCAA) Tournament. Every loss contributes to not going to the tournament.''
Coach Bobby Gonzalez noted that Pitt (15-3, 5-1) isn't as up-tempo as Louisville, but he added: "Hopefully, the transition to the Pitt game won't be too tough.''
The Panthers could be in a foul mood, considering Georgetown broke their 31-game home winning streak Wednesday night.
SETON HALL 80, LOUISVILLE 77: Jeremy Hazell led five double-figure scorers with 25 points as Seton Hall (11-6, 2-4) built a 12-point lead with 3:29 left and barely hung on for the victory.
The Cardinals (12-7, 3-3) used a late 15-3 run to cut the deficit to 79-77, but they got no closer. Edgar Sosa led Louisville with 15 points.
Hazell shot 9-for-12 from the floor and 3-for-6 from 3-point range. Jordan Theodore had 17 points and four assists, and Jeff Robinson had 12 points and eight rebounds. The Pirates shot a blistering 58.6 percent from the field in the first half to open a 46-36 lead, and Louisville never caught up in the second half.
--Herb Pope has barely been eligible for half a season, and he's already proved to be irreplaceable to Seton Hall. Unfortunately, all too often the Pirates have had to try to do just that.
Pope was averaging a double-double, 12.4 points and 11.4 rebounds, following the team's loss to Georgetown last week. But in three recent Seton Hall losses, he was only able to play limited minutes because of foul trouble.
In a Jan. 2 loss to Virginia Tech, Pope fouled out in 18 minutes, leaving him with three points and five rebounds. Four days later, he was limited to 24 minutes against Connecticut and still had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards. And on Jan. 14 against Georgetown, he fouled out in 22 minutes with six points and 10 rebounds.
It isn't that Pope can claim officials are favoring veteran players over him. He's an aggressive forward, which is part of the secret to his success, but the price of that is that he sometimes picks up silly fouls. That's become more of an issue in Big East play, where the competition is tougher and the game more physical.
Pope is a good enough player that this is a delicate situation. It won't do him or the team any good if he plays so tentatively to avoid fouls that he loses what makes him great.
But the sophomore also has to learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. In the Georgetown loss, he picked up his second and third fouls in a span of 1:02 late in the opening half, limiting him for the rest of the game. In the Virginia Tech loss, he had two fouls less than three minutes into the game, three fouls with more than nine minutes to go before intermission, and he fouled out with more than eight minutes to play.
Keeping him in the game is something he and the coaching staff have to figure out. He's one player who does so much good for the Pirates on the court that it's imperative to have him waste as little time as possible on the bench.
--Coach Bobby Gonzalez has had one decision made easier for him. One of his three lead guards, Eugene Harvey, reportedly told the coach that he's more comfortable coming off the bench. As a result, Keon Lawrence has kept his spot in the starting lineup despite some surprisingly ineffective play, with Harvey and sophomore Jordan Theodore playing significant minutes in reserve roles.
--One of the bright spots for Seton Hall against Georgetown was the performance of the bench. Jordan Theodore, Eugene Harvey, John Garcia and Jeff Robinson scored 28 points, while the Hoyas' reserves managed only seven.
ON THE SPOT: Senior PG Eugene Harvey's playing time continues to dwindle, as sophomore Jordan Theodore is doing a better job of running the team when he is on the court. Harvey is averaging 16.8 minutes in the last four games, and those figures won't improve until he starts playing better.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I mean, we haven't had a break. It would help us to play -- and I'm not saying any game in this league is easy -- a DePaul or a South Florida or Rutgers. Just somebody that's a little more normal; it might help us." -- Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez, after his team's brutally tough first five games of the Big East schedule.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Five losses in the last seven games have erased much of the momentum from what had been an impressive start to the season.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Herb Pope, F Robert Mitchell, F Ferrakohn Hall, G Jeremy Hazell, G Keon Lawrence. Key Subs -- Eugene Harvey, G Jordan Theodore, C John Garcia, F Jeff Robinson, G Jamel Jackson.
Connecticut 71, Seton Hall 63
Seton Hall 83, Cincinnati 76
Georgetown 85, Seton Hall 73
Seton Hall 80, Louisville 77
vs. Pitt, Sunday
at South Florida, Thursday, Jan. 28
at Villanova, Tuesday, Feb. 2
at Pitt, Saturday, Feb. 6
IN FOCUS: Scoring back-to-back home wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh could help Seton Hall get back in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth. Bobby Gonzalez may turn up the pressure more than usual to test a Pitt team that has a lot of ball-handlers but lacks a true point guard.
--Junior G Keon Lawrence was charged with assault-by-auto and driving with a suspended license in a wrong-way crash on the Garden State Parkway in November. Lawrence, 22, turned himself into New Jersey State Police, and bail was set at $25,000 in Sayreville Borough Municipal Court. Lawrence, represented by his attorney Clifford Minor, posted bail and was released pending a future court date. He started against Louisville and had 10 points in 25 minutes.
--Sophomore PG Jordan Theodore had 17 points and four assists in 32 minutes against Louisville. Theodore is taking minutes away from senior PG Eugene Harvey.
--Junior F Jeff Robinson had 12 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes Thursday. He has scored in double figures in four of the last five games and is averaging 24.7 minutes in Big East play.
Seton Hall Notebook
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