Just When You Thought it Was Time to Turn Off the Lights
While setting up my computer for the RTC Live Blog I looked up and realized the Hall had opened the upper bowl of the Prudential Center (known locally as "The Rock") for this game. This is the first time I recall seeing the curtains retracted for a Seton Hall game, and it gave the arena a very different look and feel from the arena floor. There were 10,862 fans in attendance and for the first 35 minutes I was not sure who had bought more tickets -- Otto's Army or the Pirate Crew. The roar that went up with 2:18 to play in the game, Jordan Theodore had just hit his second free throw to cut Syracuse's lead to two, told me The Rock was Seton Hall's House today.
Syracuse beat Seton Hall 61-56 in a game that was not decided until the 0:16 mark of the second half. Separated by a single point, 20-19 Syracuse, at the half, the Orange spent the first seven minutes of the second half on an 18-9 run that secured them a double digit lead. Though they survived several pushes by the Pirates over the next eight minutes, the Pirates had one last, sustained push that translated into an 11-2 run that cut the Orange lead to two, 55-53 with just over two minutes left. The Orange hung on, outscoring the Pirates 6-3 over the last two minutes, to secure the win. Pirate forward Jeff Robinson paced all scorers with 17 points to go with his 14 rebounds. Pirate forward Herb Pope also recorded a double-double, scoring 14 points while snagging 20 rebounds. Point guard Brandon Triche and forward Kris Joseph paced the Orange with 15 points apiece. The breakdown by halves...
A Defensive First Half
Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard had tried to beat Syracuse's fabled 2-3 zone by first shooting over it. The effort yielded zero points as the Pirate back court and wings (principally Jordan Theodore, Jamel Jackson and Fuquan Edwin) shot a combined 0-13 in the first half. The second approach, to press the Orange, crash the defensive boards and simply outrun the Syracuse coverage to score before the Orange could set up the zone was a bit more successful...the emphasis on a bit. While the Pirates scored six fast break points, Pope, Edwin, Lawrence and Robinson all missed chippies within three feet of the basket. Defense kept the Hall in the first half, after shooting an abysmal 30.4% from the field they seemed lucky to be down by only one. The Orange however had their own problems. Despite scoring seven points in the game's first three minutes (to the Hall's 2), SHU's defensive switches, combined with Syracuse's uncharacteristcally sloppy ball handling, stalled the Orange offense. The Hall's very physical play, a defensive strategy that translated into eight first half fouls, including three on Jeff Robinson, distracted the Cuse, and though it put them on the line for 10 free throw attempts, the Orange were able to convert only five times.
Half Time Adjustments
With the shot conversions stone cold, Willard decided to crash the offensive boards, sending at times even the guards to secure second chance opportunities. The strategy was a double-edged sword. Note from the table above that the Hall secured a phenomenal 64.7% of their second half misses, but note also how Syracuse's own shot conversion improved significantly as well. With four, sometimes five players on the board, there was no one back to set up the defensive should the Orange secure the rebound. Willard also put Lawrence at the point and moved Theodore (and Eniel Polynice when Theodore rested) to the off guard position. Lawrence, more a penetrater than a step back jump shooter, passed the ball around the perimeter to locate a seam in the zone, and if one of the forwards could set a pick at the top of the key, turn the corner and penetrate the lane. When he met doubed defenders Lawrence would find a forward (Pope or Robinson) flashing along the baseline and pass. When the Orange adjusted, Lawrence would pass to Pope at the foul line and let Pope decide to shoot or pass to a forward (often Robinson) at the baseline. While the strategy definitely stretched the Orange zone, the defensive effort to rebound often left one of Syracuse's perimeter players (often Triche or Jardine) open to shoot the three or penetrate the lane.
Syracuse extends their winning streak to 16 and their conference record improves to 3-0. The Orange will face a resurgent St. John's squad in the Garden Wednesday. Seton Hall falls to 7-9 overall and 1-3 in conference play. The Pirates travel to Chicago to play DePaul on Wednesday.
I will be in the Pavilion Sunday, to cover Cincinnati at Villanova for RTC Live. Look for the link to the chat on Rush the Court's front page. Hope to hear from you.