Jersey Hoops

It wasn’t pretty but Seton Hall handles Monmouth in season opener

The contest had little-to-no flow and was a tough watch for the casual observer. For Pirates fans who had been eagerly awaiting the Holloway era, though, we imagine many of them would happily sign up to sit through a slog every night if it meant a double digit victory. 

It wasn’t pretty, but Shaheen Holloway’s first win as head coach at his alma mater was convincing.

For a team that had more question marks than the Census, many of which remain unanswered after just one contest, writing a season preview for Seton Hall before Wednesday night’s home opener at the Rock was the epitome of a futile effort. So we didn’t bother, but two things that we could have confidently predicted for a team with eight new faces and a completely reconstructed staff: this squad, under new head coach and Pirate legend Shaheen Holloway, would play with great intensity/effort (that’s not optional if you play for Sha), and, due to the style of play, a lot of guys were going to log minutes. Not exactly predictions that would have earned us clairvoyant status, but, on point nevertheless. 

In the 27-point drubbing of a rebuilding Monmouth, 10 Pirates—literally every available player on scholarship—saw, at least, 13 minutes of action and all of them checked into the game within the first five minutes of play. 

The contest, which saw both sides combine for 43 turnovers, 51 fouls and an average FG % of 37.5, had little-to-no flow and was a tough watch for the casual observer. For Pirates fans who had been eagerly awaiting the Holloway era, though, we imagine many of them would happily sign up to sit through a slog every night if it meant a double digit victory. 

The Good: This is a roster comprised of mostly new additions (five transfers-in, three freshmen, only five returning players) and one that’s dealt with a considerable amount of injuries in the preseason (Alexis Yetna, JaQuan Harris and Abdou Ndiaye are all still sidelined). While they haven’t had an abundance of time to gel, Holloway’s fingerprints are already all over this team: the work ethic, energy and physicality on display was refreshing and harkened back to seasons past where toughness was at the core of the Pirates’ identity (see: Ish Sanogo).

Newark native Al-Amir Dawes scored 10 points in 26 minutes, but the transfer guard from Clemson exhibited a high motor, working particularly hard on the defensive end. On offense, his handle and ability to penetrate seem better than advertised.

The two available freshmen played solid minutes and performed well. Jaquan Sanders, a 6’4” guard from Queens, took no time at all getting into the flow of the action and displayed his heralded shooting touch (2-4 from behind the arc). Showing zero signs of being overwhelmed by the moment in his first college game, Sanders held his own on defense and looks to be the first incoming guard in recent memory that’s ready to actually contribute in year one.  

Tae Davis is a stud. The 6’9” freshman from Indianapolis’ minutes were limited in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, but shortly after checking into the game in the second half, Davis intercepted a pass, drove end to end through the defense and finished with a lay-in while being fouled. Though the talented wing couldn’t convert a three point play at the line, he got his own rebound and found an open Dawes on the perimeter who buried the 3-pointer. The sequence was a brilliant display of Davis’ ability. Side note: getting on the break should be a strength for Seton Hall as there’s not a guy on the roster who’s afraid to put the ball on the floor or run. Even though they lack prototypical bigs, the length and athleticism on this team is abundant. Offense from defense will be a theme all year long.

The Bad: Without getting too pessimistic so early on, this was a really sloppy game for the Hall. Sure, Monmouth’s turnover total (23) exceeded the Pirates’, but 20 turnovers (13 in the first half alone) is far too many, especially if they expect to be successful against better competition going forward (the next two opponents are Saint Peters and Iowa). Also worth mentioning: without a timeline for the return of veteran big-man Alexis Yetna (knee), Holloway is going to have to place a greater emphasis on rebounding the ball in practice. Seton Hall ratcheted things up on the glass in the second half but were still out-rebounded on the offensive boards 11-4 before the break, which just can’t happen against lesser opponents (or any team, really). Free-throw shooting was bad (59%), but we won’t get too hung up on it unless it becomes a trend that lingers well into the non-conference slate. 

Noteworthy Numbers: 21 points from the Pirates’ bench in the first half; yet, “the bench” might be a misnomer considering multiple bench players logged more minutes than starters. It’s not misguided to assume that the starting lineup is still somewhat of a fluid situation at this point. 

The Hall held Monmouth to some staggering offensive numbers: 52 points (16 of those from free-throws) with a 29.8 FG% and 10% from 3PT.  At times in the first half, it seemed like Monmouth couldn’t buy a bucket, shooting 17% from the floor and 0-11 from behind the arc. Even when they did well to find open looks (not easy to come by against a harassing Pirates defense) shots just wouldn’t fall. Sometimes it’s just not your night.

Voters picked Monmouth to finish towards the bottom of the CAA in their first year as a member of the conference. This team has a few bright spots, though: one of which being junior forward Myles Foster, who managed 18 points and 15 rebounds in 37 minutes. The non-conference schedule is incredibly difficult for the Hawks, but perhaps being challenged early will pay dividends when it comes time for conference play.  

Nice to see: The Pirates’ start to the second half on offense reflected a team that’s well-coached/prepared with a high basketball IQ.  As Monmouth went to a zone defense, the Hall immediately recognized and attacked in textbook fashion with good passing on consecutive possessions: first, by working the ball to the middle and ultimately finding a gap in the zone with a feed to Tyrese Samuel on the baseline—which resulted in a trip to the free-throw line (he connected on both foul shots). More effective ball movement on the second trip down, this time on the perimeter, led to a Femi Odukale three pointer. 

As a starter, Odukale didn’t register that many minutes (13) but was quietly efficient (apart from two turnovers), particularly in the first five minutes of the second half: drew a charge, moved the ball well, knocked down a three and earned a nice assist after drawing a double team and finding Tray Jackson just outside the circle for a wide open dunk. Some good things seemed to happen when he had the ball in his hands and Hall fans should be excited about his potential this season.

Next up: Saint Peters, Saturday (11/12), 12 p.m. @ the Rock