NEWARK, N.J. -- In the span of 15 days, Seton Hall has gone from a pleasant surprise to a team in a tailspin.
The Pirates, once 15-2 and nationally ranked (for the first time in 11 years), are now 15-6 after their 60-51 loss to No. 25 Louisville on Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
Seton Hall has lost four in a row, and has shot under 30 percent from the field in the past two, yet coach Kevin Willard was remarkably calm after the game.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Willard said. “We really suck offensively right now. We’re lacking a lot of confidence, and it’s kinda making us a step slow.
“To stay in there, hang in there, and force 24 turnovers and give yourself a chance, that’s the best we could ask for.”
Three nights ago, Seton Hall shot 15-for-57 (26.3 percent) and scored just 42 points -- their lowest output in a game since 2005 -- in a 13-point loss to Notre Dame. Against Louisville, the Pirates were only microscopically better, hitting 16-for-58 (27.6 percent).
Yet their defense helped get them back in this game, after trailing 36-21 at the half. The Pirates cut the deficit to nine with 13:48 remaining, and had numerous opportunities to get closer over the next several minutes, but failed each time.
Then they made another surge late, cutting it to 55-50 with 1:49 left, but couldn’t finish off the comeback. Herb Pope’s three missed foul shots in the final two minutes didn’t help.
“I feel like it’s a different outcome of the game if I make those three free throws that I missed in a row,” said Pope, who finished with 12 points and 12 boards but shot just 4-for-13 from the field and 4-for-8 from the line. “I definitely take that one on my shoulders.”
As for why the Pirates, averaging 70.9 points per game coming into Saturday night, are suddenly struggling so much on offense, several different theories were floated after the game.
Willard thinks the team needs to think a little less. “We’ve gotten a little bit too mental and stopped just playing,” he said. “When you start thinking about everything, it pretty much just -- you have a little hesitation in you.”
Jordan Theodore, who led the team with 18 points but made just 6 of his 20 shots, thinks the Pirates may need to switch things up a bit because of opponents' scouting reports. “They know your moves, they know where you like to shoot, they know everything,” Theodore said. “So guys are gonna have to do different things.”
Pope thinks the team needs to focus more, particularly in the paint -- Seton Hall missed a bunch of shots around the rim on Saturday. “Don’t worry about anything else but keep your eye on the target,” Pope said. “You're gonna get hit, you’re gonna get smacked, passes aren’t gonna be great, but you gotta be able to execute.”
Whatever the issue is -- and it could be a combination of all three -- give the Pirates credit for taking responsibility for the defeat. “It’s on me,” said Theodore, while Pope said he apologized to his teammates for missing those free throws down the stretch.
And give them, and their coach, credit for not panicking despite a four-game losing streak in the middle of conference play.
“Defintely the mood is [still] upbeat,” Pope said. “By us having a good start to the Big East, there’s not so much pressure on us to have to come through and win seven miraculous games to have a good seeding in the Big East tournament. All we gotta do right now is take it one game at a time, and continue to build.
“Our defense is always there, and that’s pretty much our staple this year. Now we just gotta pick up our pace on the offensive end.”
They better pick up the pace quick, though. Seton Hall's next three games? All on the road -- at No. 18 Marquette, at No. 19 UConn, and in Piscataway against in-state rival Rutgers.
A four-game losing streak could turn into a seven-game losing streak in the blink of an eye.