The game looked all but over—Seton Hall’s Myles Powell made a tough three-pointer to take the lead with 1.5 seconds left.
Kentucky sent out one last prayer to salvage the game, as a last-second heave by Keldon Johnson hung in the air, while Madison Square Garden held its breath.
”You think, there’s no way this is going in,” said Seton Hall’s Myles Cale, about Johnson’s shot at the end of regulation.
However, it was an answered prayer. The ball caromed off the glass and through the hoop, as euphoria and shock accompanied the sound of the buzzer. The game was headed for overtime.
Perhaps, Johnson’s shot was a teaser or just five more minutes for the Seton Hall Pirates to prove that hanging with the blue-blooded, No.9-ranked Kentucky Wildcats was indeed for real.
In a back-and-forth close contest, the Pirates emerged victorious, thanks to the go-ahead three by Cale with 9.5 seconds left in overtime. They held off the Wildcats to hang on for the win and complete the 84-83 upset.
”My coach tells me to always be ready, tells my teammates to always be ready, because you never know when the ball is going to come your way,” Cale said of his game-winner. “They swung it around the arc, got to me, took my time--pump fake--and shot the ball, and it went in.”
It was a hard-fought win for Seton Hall, who never trailed by more than eight points during the game. The Pirates weathered a tough first half, which included a drought where both teams went for over 10 minutes without a single made shot.
The Wildcats took a 31-25 lead at the break, after a somber first half. Neither team shot higher than 33.3 percent on the floor to begin the game, but in the second half things started to heat up.
Overall, the game featured 13 ties and 11 lead changes.
When it looked like Kentucky was going to pull away in the second half, Myles Powell willed the Pirates back into the game. He heated up coming down the stretch, finishing with a team-high 28 points. Cale had 17 points. Quincy McKnight added 15 points, five assists, and four steals for the Pirates.
”What I like about this group more than anything is that they stay, they continue to work,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “That’s how I set the schedule up, I need to get these guys battle tested. The fact that it was Kentucky was huge, but to get them in the Garden--get them Garden experience--to get them ready for the Big East Tournament. There’s just something special about this place.”
For Kentucky, P.J. Washington led the Wildcats with a game-high 29 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks. Reid Travis had 13 points. Johnson and Tyler Herro finished with 10 points apiece.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Myles and Myles
It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for both Myles Powell and Myles Cale, but they came up big when it mattered most.
Kentucky clamped down on the 6-foot-2 junior for approximately 30 minutes of the game. He barely did anything in the first half. He began the game shooting just 2-of-8 overall, and then burst into the game midway through the second half with a couple of threes. He didn’t stop there, closing the game out 7-for-8 for the rest of regulation--taking and making ridiculously contested perimeter shots. He quickly and quietly amassed his high-scoring total and proved his ability--once again--to take over games. He kept the Pirates in it and could’ve had the game-winner...if it weren’t for Keldon Johnson’s heave to force overtime.
”We played great defense on him in the first half, but in the second half he kind of got going a little bit,” Kentucky’s Washington said of Powell. “We gave him some crazy fouls for us, and then he started going from the free throw line, so it started and then he just started making tough shots. We played good defense on him, but he just made tough contested shots over us.”
While Powell is a more established player, Cale made the heroic shot. The second-year guard was just 4-for-18 on the floor. He came up with strong hustle plays and timely baskets and was a consistent contributor at the free throw line. As Powell heated up and the Kentucky paid attention to him more, it allowed for Cale to free himself and be wide open in the corner. After a crafty pump fake, he sank the go-ahead shot for the win--the biggest shot of his career thus far.
”I have confidence in Myles Cale,” Willard said. “The reason he’s out there for 44 minutes is that he’s going to be a great ball player one day. He’s got a great ball fake, and he knocked it down.”
Free Throw Woes
It’s been a problem for Seton Hall the last few years, especially with the core trio of Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carringtonn. Although they were excellent players, they weren’t exactly the best free throw shooters. Granted they improved as they got older, but they weren’t automatic. This year’s Pirates were shooting 69.1 percent going into Saturday--seven-tenths below last year’s mark of 69.8 percent.
Against Kentucky, Seton Hall struggles appeared again, but it was especially problematic when Powell--who’s shooting over 88 percent from the charity stripe--had a hard time as well. There were a few instances during a first half, 10-minute stretch--where neither team was able to sink a shot--that the Pirates had a few free opportunities at the line to take the lead, and they couldn’t capitalize.
In the second half, Seton Hall picked it up. Overall, the Pirates shot 19-for-26 (73.1 percent). An ugly 8-for-14 (57.1 percent) in a tightly contested first half, and then 11-for-12 (91.7 percent) in the second half.
Powell was only 4-of-8 at the charity stripe. Cale and McKnight were the only real consistent ones, going a combined 10-for-10. With how close this game was, if it weren’t for late-game heroics and a refined approach in the second half--this could have been a rough reflection on what could have been had certain free throws fell.
Kentucky is a very physical team. With sophomore P.J. Washington and the other talented big men, the Wildcats weren’t afraid to muscle their way inside. Especially once Sandro Mamukelashvili and Michael Nzei fouled out, it looked like Kentucky would have free reign to do whatever it wanted to do down low.
Washington was a monster. He bullied the Pirates in the paint, finishing over either shoulder and on multiple defenders. His double-double performance and the way he protected the rim should not be overlooked or understated. While Kentucky was able to find success with him and other guys attacking the basket, Seton Hall’s defensive approach showed that patience pays off.
The Pirates had excellent help defense on Washington and other forwards inside--those Wildcats were just getting the tough finishes to fall. However, they would leave guys open on the perimeter and dare their opponents to shoot up three-pointers. Kentucky wasn’t a great three-point shooting team coming in, about middle of the pack in all of Division I at about 35 percent from downtown, but the magic was definitely not there today. The Wildcats couldn’t make their open looks, struggling their way to a 5-for-20 (25.0 percent) finish from long range. They began to hesitate from long range and helped Seton Hall focus solely on guarding interior play. Herro was 0-of-6 and had a number of open shots. Ashton Hagans was 0-for-2. Johnson made the heave, but was 2-for-6 on the day. Keep your eye on how this impacts the Wildcats moving forward.
”We’ve got a ways to go,” Calipari said. “Every year I go through this, this is painful and aging. Trying to figure out your team, trying to win games while you’re trying to figure them out, how you finish games, and trying to get them to mature quickly. It’s just hard. And you know what? I’m going through it again.”