On The Road With John Rooke: Seton Hall

Poor execution + poor ball handling = poor performance. Not exactly an equation for rocket science, is it?

But it is a formula that means an "L" on the road, where the margin for error is so much smaller than at home.

For the second straight game, the Friars had the turnover bug bite them hard, and lead to easy points scored by a team that found itself undermanned in the paint against a bigger, stronger PC squad. But whatever advantages the Friars held on the inside have largely been negated by shaky play outside, and that was a deciding factor Wednesday night at the Meadowlands in a 69-68 loss to the Seton Hall Pirates.

Eleven days after dispatching this same Pirate team by 22 points at the Dunk, the Friars seem to have lost their "mojo," or whatever else they had working for them, in their last two games away from home. Coincidentally, these two games (including Louisville last Saturday) have seen the Friars return guard Sharaud Curry to the lineup after serving a four-game suspension for a violation of team rules. This is not to suggest the losses, or the poor play itself, are Curry's fault – rather, the Friars have simply relaxed at the wrong time, waiting for Curry to lead the way. They have not been "strong" with the ball. And Sharaud has shown some rust since his return. Unfortunately, that rust has rubbed off on others.

After a quick start out of the gate led to an early 4-point lead, the Pirates began their relentless pressure all over the floor against PC, and the end result quickly became a nine-point lead. At 14-11 Providence, the Hall ripped off 12 unanswered points to assume command, stretching the lead at one point to 31-21, and they ended with a nine point lead at the half, 37-28. The Friars coughed up 13 first-half turnovers for 15 Pirates' points overall, negating any advantage (small as it was) on the backboards or in shooting percentage from the floor. Sophomore guard Paul Gause was a catalyst, with a couple of steals that led to a team high 11 points. Gause is among the nations' leaders in steals, and the Pirates fed off of his energy.

Providence came out in the second half taking better care of the ball, but they did not attack Seton Hall's pressure as much in order to score. The Friars were much more reserved in their offensive sets, giving up some of their aggressiveness in order to save possessions. The result was a slow and steady comeback, ultimately squaring up the score at 44-44 with 14:00 to play on two Curry free throws. Freshman Brian McKenzie, who scored a career high 12 points on 4-8 from 3-point range, hit a 3-pointer to give the Friars a lead at 47-45 less than a minute later. The difference at this point, however, was in the Pirates offensive attack taking the game right to the larger Friar presence in the post.

And, they were successful.

Consistent penetration by Eugene Harvey and Brian Laing, kicking out to huge three-point shots from Larry Davis and Jamar Nutter, kept the Friars at bay. Nutter was particularly unconscious, with three 3's from 28-30 feet in range off the top of the key, the last one with :47 left, and a defender (McKenzie) in his face, that gave the Pirates a seemingly insurmountable 69-65 lead.

Yet, the Friars kept the fight right to the end, on a Weyinmi Efejuku layup, and missed free throws by the Pirates. With :16 remaining, Laing missed the front end of a one and one opportunity, and Geoff McDermott grabbed the rebound. After a Curry miss, the Pirates forced the ball out of bounds with just :03 seconds left, time enough for Curry to find McDermott inside, but also time enough for McDermott's shot to roll off the front of the rim as the clock hit :00.

And keep the Friars at 00 in the win column on the road, as well.

Game Notes:
For the first time this season, the Friars outshot an opponent from the floor (44% to 39%), yet lost the game…at the Dunk on January 6, PC held a 47-26 rebound advantage on the backboards. Wednesday night, the margin was only a slight 37-33 Friar edge…counting the loss at Louisville, it's easy to see that the Friars' recent wounds have largely been self-inflicted. 46 total turnovers in the past two games (26 at Louisville, 20 at Seton Hall) have led directly to their opponents scoring 60 points (39 Louisville, 21 SHU)…if you're looking for a bright spot, the play of McKenzie was encouraging. And Herbert Hill did get another double-double (his 5th of the season) with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocks…the officiating crew featured Bryan Kersey, Fran Connolly and Tim Higgins – the first time Higgins has seen the Friars (and the Friars have seen him) this season…there was a strong former Friar presence at the Meadowlands, with Marquis Bragg, Carlton Screen and Eric and Jason Murdock all in attendance. Eric Murdock joined the radio broadcast at halftime, and provided analysis throughout the second half…a major point Eric brought up was the need to feed Hill in the post, as Hill managed only three shots (and one FG) in the entire second half…he and Jason have spent the last two years coaching high school basketball together in New Jersey, and Eric mentioned that he and his brother have had their share of "words" during heated moments on the floor…Weyinmi Efejuku took a hard spill on the floor along the baseline under the Pirates' basket during the second half, falling hard on his right hip. He limped for much of the rest of the game, but did see playing time in the games' waning moments…Pirate big man Grant Billmeier went down with a left knee injury just two minutes into the game, and did not return…the small things always come up big in close games, and missed free throws cost the Friars dearly. Hill and Efejuku both missed shots from the line in the last 1:30 that could have provided the winning margin...McDermott was only 1-3 from the line, and finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 turnovers. McDermott, Hill and Curry combined for 16 of the 21 miscues the Friars had in the game.

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