Seton Hall basketball stunned by Siena as Orlando trip fizzles

Last week, Seton Hall basketball coach Shaheen Holloway said he wasn’t looking forward to playing in the ESPN Events Invitational.

Turns out, he had good reason.

The Pirates stumbled home Sunday with a 60-55 loss to Siena, capping a 1-2 showing that won’t help their resume and showed just how far this group has to go under its first-year skipper.

Seton Hall (4-3) began the week in Orlando in promising fashion, edging a good Memphis squad on a Tyrese Samuel buzzer-beater, but then dropped a 13-point decision to eventual tourney champ Oklahoma before bottoming out against Siena. The Saints (4-3) came in ranked 216th by the analytics website Kenpom.com, having beaten Florida State but lost to Army and Harvard.

The Pirates played without junior forward Dre Davis, who missed a second game due to a knee injury. The broadcast crew characterized it as minor.

For what it's worth, Siena swept Holloway’s Saint Peter’s squad last year, winning the second meeting by 14 just two weeks before the Peacocks launched their epic March run.

This is Seton Hall's first losing Feast Week ledger since the 2016-17 squad lost to Florida and Stanford and beat Quinnipiac in this event. That team eventually made it into the NCAA Tournament.

Siena Saints guard Jared Billups (1) shoots against Seton Hall Pirates forward KC Ndefo (13) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Siena Saints guard Jared Billups (1) shoots against Seton Hall Pirates forward KC Ndefo (13) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

3 THOUGHTS

1. Brutal shooting

The Pirates shot just 20-32 (62.5 percent) from the free-throw line, including a costly missed pair by normally reliable postgrad guard Jamir Harris with the score tied and 2:38 left. They shot 1-of-9 from 3-point range and just 32 percent overall. Their last-gasp effort at tying the score was emblematic: a wild drive and miss by Al-Amir Dawes and a put-back misfire at point-blank range by Tyrese Samuel.

2. Second-unit meltdown

The Pirates opened up sharp, leading 13-5 with Samuel dominating the paint. Then came a big substitution and Siena launched a 14-1 run that turned the contest on its head. It’s early, and Holloway is learning his rotation, but perhaps some personnel shuffling or change in minutes allocation is in order. The four subs wound up deep into the minus of the plus/minus. This isn't the first time that's happened this season.

It was noteworthy that Holloway gave junior guard Kadary Richmond a long run in the first half and then hardly played him at all after the break. Richmond finished with 3 points, shot 1-of-3 from the field and 1-of-4 from the free-throw line, and had four assists and three turnovers in 18 minutes.

3. Lost weekend

Yes, the Pirates picked up a quality win over Memphis, but getting manhandled by Oklahoma and losing to Siena adds up to a massive missed opportunity -- especially given the home-court feel that traveling Hall fans provided. A trip to Kansas awaits Thursday, a tough spot for a team in need of the reset button. It's a long season and there are undoubtedly twists and turns ahead, but for now adjust your expectations accordingly.

3 QUOTES

From Shaheen Holloway’s postgame radio interview:

On the energy level: “Came out flat. No energy. Never been a part of something where guys don't want to play basketball. Saw it this morning in the walk-through. We had nothing.”

“I gave the guys off yesterday to regroup. I tried to jump on them, tried everything. Got to give Siena a lot of credit. Coached a good game. The sad thing was, the two best players on the court tonight were from Siena.:

“We got outplayed, outcoached, out-everythinged.”

On the team's health and cohesion: “I knew it would be a learning process with this group. I still believe in us. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, a lot of basketball. We’ve got to get back to basics, get guys healthy.”

“Got two guys before the game telling the trainer they can’t play (Dre Davis and Tray Jackson). When you’ve got an older team you expect a bit more leadership.”

"Tray had an ankle problem. He wasn’t going to play. Then Tony (Testa) taped him up and he wanted to give it a go. Two guys before the game telling me they can’t play, it’s not fair to Tae (Davis), to throw him in there as a freshman (with a larger role). Now you look out of sync.”

On the free-throw problem: “As bad as we played, we still had a chance to win. When you go 20-32 from the free-throw line, you can’t beat anybody. We practice free throws more than anybody.”

Seton Hall Pirates guard Femi Odukale (21) dribbles past Siena Saints guard Michael Eley (3) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Seton Hall Pirates guard Femi Odukale (21) dribbles past Siena Saints guard Michael Eley (3) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

SHU LANDS 1st 2023 COMMITMENT

Seton Hall received its first Class of 2023 recruiting commitment from Isaiah Watts, a 6-foot-3 combo guard from Connecticut prep power South Kent. Here are three things to know about him:

1-He comes from a well-known lineage in his native Seattle. His grandfather Donald “Slick” Watts played seven seasons in the NBA, the first five with the Seattle Supersonics. In 1975-76 Slick led the NBA in assists (8.1 per game) and steals (3.2 per game) and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team.

Isaiah’s father, Donald Watts, was a Pac-10 star guard at the University of Washington who scored 1,158 collegiate points and averaged 16.9 points, 3.9 boards and 3.6 assists as a junior in 1996-97. He led the Huskies to two NCAA Tournament appearances.

2. Isaiah is a late bloomer who didn’t start playing AAU until 2020. His first offer came from Eastern Washington, and he started attracting more Division I interest after moving east to South Kent. He listed offers from Missouri, UMBC, Charlotte, Fordham and George Washington.

3. He’s been described as a good spot-up shooter. In an interview with the scouting group ProInsight, he reinforced shooting as his strength but said “my thing is energy” and “what I’m about is winning.” He said he chose Seton Hall because “they’re a real basketball school, they don’t have any football, and they’re in the Big East – the best conference in America.”

SEMIFINALS: OKLAHOMA 77, SETON HALL 64

A night after the buzzer-beating bank shot seen 'round the hoop world, there was no drama for Seton Hall basketball in the semifinals of the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando.

Just a slow fizzle against Oklahoma.

The Sooners controlled both ends of the floor to hand the Pirates a 77-64 defeat – their second double-digit loss to a high-major opponent this month. Similar to the Hall's 16-point home loss to Iowa, there was no counterpunch in the second half.

Seton Hall (4-2) will play in Sunday’s third-place game vs. Siena (3-3) at 5 p.m. (ESPN2). The Pirates missed a chance to face unbeaten Ole Miss in the championship game, play on a big stage (with alum Dick Vitale on the call) and enhance the postseason resume.

Oklahoma (5-1) came in ranked No. 36 by the analytics website Kenpom.com, but without a notable victory. That's changed now.

Oklahoma Sooners guard Grant Sherfield (25) dribbles past Seton Hall Pirates forward KC Ndefo (13) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Oklahoma Sooners guard Grant Sherfield (25) dribbles past Seton Hall Pirates forward KC Ndefo (13) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

3 THOUGHTS

1. Trouble defending the arc

Seton Hall came into the game ranked eighth nationally in 3-point defense (.223), but the Sooners shredded that, hitting on 10-of-20 attempts from deep. Credit Oklahoma with good ball movement that exploited the Pirates’ rotations to feast on the corner triple. Overall the Sooners shot 51 percent and committed just eight turnovers as Seton Hall's defense seemed unfocused and gassed in the second half.

2. Lead guard gap

For the second straight game, the opposing lead guard gave the Pirates fits. In the quarters it was Memphis’ Kendric Davis. In the semis it was Oklahoma’s Grant Sherfield (25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, 3 assists). The Pirates, by contrast, don’t have someone in a lead guard role. That seemed to be an issue as they committed eight first-half turnovers, the majority of them unforced, leaving points on the board as open targets in the paint were missed by errant passes.

The Hall's best player so far this season has been postman Tyrese Samuel, but a day after his 14-point, 11-rebound, game-winning-shot performance against Memphis, he wound up riding the bench after scoring six early points and logged just 16 minutes.

3. Salvage time

The Hall achieved the minimum requirement out of this event, which was to record a quality win. Oklahoma won’t be a resume-killer, and if the Pirates regroup Sunday by beating Siena and getting out of Orlando with a 2-1 mark, the trip won't be a failure. As we said in the preseason, this is going to be a bumpy ride for a while as Holloway puts his system in place.

3 QUOTES

From Shaheen Holloway's postgame radio interview:

On the difference in the second half: “Just not being disciplined tonight. We got up four or five points (in the second half) and pick-and-roll defense really hurt us.”

On the offensive struggles: “We started getting into the me factor: Everybody thinks it’s their time instead of worrying about the team. We’ll get it right. Another lesson to learn. Oklahoma was very good, very well coached. Their kids made timely baskets when they needed it and we didn’t.”

On Kadary Richmond (5 points on 2-of-7 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 turnovers): “I’m on him…We need him to get going. He’s a guy that’s got some experience, played good last year, was second-team All-Big East preseason, and we need to start getting him to play like a second-team All-Big East player. He’ll get there—I’ll get him there. He’s tying to figure out ways to impact the game but we need him to score.”

QUARTERFINALS: SAMUEL BEATS BUZZER, MEMPHIS

Tyrese Samuel is the lone four-year member of the Seton Hall basketball program.

On Thursday, the basketball gods rewarded his loyalty.

The 6-foot-10 senior banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Pirates to a 70-69 victory over Memphis in the quarterfinals of the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando, the Hall’s first signature win under head coach Shaheen Holloway.

Samuel finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and crucially made four straight free throw down the stretch, as the Pirates improved to 4-1 ahead of Friday’s semifinal vs Oklahoma (8 p.m., ESPN 2).

Seton Hall Pirates players and staff celebrate winning against the Memphis Tigers at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Seton Hall Pirates players and staff celebrate winning against the Memphis Tigers at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

The postman said the play was designed as a 3-pointer for postgrad guard Jamir Harris. Samuel looked his way upon taking the inbounds from Kadary Richmond, but when Harris was blanketed, the big fella knew the outcome was in his hands. A .303 career shooter from beyond the arc, he launched his prayer from about 25 feet out, straightaway, with a hand in his face.

After it fell true, the Pirates' bench emptied and piled upon man of the hour.

“I knew it would be a bank shot (upon the release) but when I shot it, I was like, ‘This might actually go in,’” Samuel said. “It was a blur, and when it went in I stood there, I didn’t know how to react. It was surreal.”

3 THOUGHTS

Seton Hall Pirates forward Tyrese Samuel (4) celebrates with staff after a game against the Memphis Tigers at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Seton Hall Pirates forward Tyrese Samuel (4) celebrates with staff after a game against the Memphis Tigers at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

1. Samuel is realizing it

In the preseason, Samuel said he was tired of hearing about his potential. That word has been thrown around since his freshman year. Yes, he got lucky with the game-winner. But he earned that opportunity by sinking four straight free throws down the stretch – he's a career .580 shooter from the line, though .842 this season – and hitting the boards hard. His four offensive rebounds marked a game-high.

“Happy for Tyrese,” Holloway said in his postgame radio interview. “I’ve got to get Rese to score down low. He rebounded the basketball, though, I’ve got to give him that. Made big free throws, hit a big three, I hope this helps his confidence, man.”

Worth noting: Samuel is doing all this as the lone true big man in the Pirates’ rotation. He's carrying a heavy load.

“I’m trying to conquer the day, playing every day like I’m on a one-day contract,” he said. “I want to show people who I actually am, all the hard work I’ve put in, working on my free throws so I can make them down the stretch."

Personally, on a visceral level, this felt food for Samuel – one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He earned this moment.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been putting in a lot of work these past four years. I’ve stayed loyal to this program. I feel like I’ve helped this program a lot. You know with all four years I’ve been here, (to have a moment like this) was perfect timing.”

Seton Hall Pirates forward Tray Jackson (1) and Memphis Tigers guard Alex Lomax (2) battle for the ball during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Seton Hall Pirates forward Tray Jackson (1) and Memphis Tigers guard Alex Lomax (2) battle for the ball during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

2. Rotation still coming into focus

Holloway is still tinkering with the rotation. He’s still figuring out how to use talented but inconsistent playmaker Kadary Richmond, how to protect Samuel from foul trouble, how many guys can handle the ball and run offense, what combinations work best. There are going to be fits and starts. This goes into the start category.

“We’re super talented,” Samuel said. "Every game, it’s going to be someone different. I’m not going to say every game it’s going to be me. We have enough talent where everyone can share. That’s going to make us hard to defend.”

Unlike Memphis, which leaned on star guard Kendric Davis (22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), Seton Hall featured the kind of balance fostered by Holloway's evenly distributed minutes. Junior forward Dre Davis led the Pirates with 13 points off the bench and made all five of his free throws. Postgrad forward KC Ndefo (8 points, 4 boards, 2 blocks, 2 steals) drew a team-high five fouls, three of which helped foul out talented Memphis forward DeAndre Williams. Junior forward Tray Jackson scored 10 and kept the Pirates in striking range with some key second-half buckets.

3. Winner’s bracket

It can’t be overstated how significant this was from a resume perspective. Memphis (2-2) came in with a ranking of 29 by the analytics website Kenpom.com and will roll up a lot of wins in the American Athletic Conference this season. Oklahoma's Kenpom ranking is 39th – another quality foe. Nebraska, which awaited the loser of Seton Hall-Memphis, is a lousy team destined for the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

“This was super big,” Samuel said. “We lost to Iowa, so winning this game means a lot for us. It’s another win on our resume.”

The Sooners are 4-1, with no notable wins and loss to a pretty good Sam Houston team. They feature a standout point guard in Grant Sherfield (15.4 ppg, 5.4 apg) and a 6-foot-10 force in Tanner Groves (11.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg). Groves weighs 240 pounds, so it will be interesting to see if Holloway calls on Samuel (the only Pirate who weighs more than 215, with Alexis Yetna sidelined) for more than the 22 minutes he logged against Memphis.

In Friday's 69-56 win over Nebraska Groves tallied 16 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes, a sky-high number for a player that size. Sherfield played 36 minutes, four more than any Pirate did vs. Memphis.

The last time these programs met was during Feast Week in 2013. Oklahoma rallied from seven points down in the final minute to stun the Hall 86-85 at the Barclays Center.

Seton Hall Pirates fans celebrate their win against the Memphis Tigers at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Seton Hall Pirates fans celebrate their win against the Memphis Tigers at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

3 QUOTES

Holloway: “I’m super happy and super blessed. This team has been through a lot in the past seven months. This is just the beginning.”

Samuel on the postgame locker room: “It was great energy. Everyone was jumping up and down. Coach Sha said, ‘Get ready for tomorrow.'”

Samuel on the Seton Hall fan turnout in Orlando: “Super loud. Great turnout. We have a lot of loyal supporters and alumni. It was a great atmosphere.”

Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at jcarino@gannettnj.com.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Seton Hall basketball falls to Siena