Louisville defeated Seton Hall by 15 points on Wednesday in Newark, 73-58, but don't be fooled by the final score.
This was no blowout. The Pirates played the No. 3 Cardinals to a draw for 28 minutes and change, the score tied at 42.
"I was proud of the way my guys played last night," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said Thursday, on the weekly Big East coaches conference call. "Louisville is a terrific team. We got a little worn down by their size as the game wore on, had some turnovers late around the seven-minute mark that kind of cost us a lot of momentum. But we battled."
Seton Hall has battled all season, despite dealing with a string of injuries. Starting forward Patrik Auda was lost for the year after just five games with a broken bone in his right foot. Only four players have appeared in all 16 games. The Pirates are currently missing forward Brian Oliver (8.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg), who started seven of the team's first 13 games, but has missed the past three with a sprained ankle. They've also been without backup center Aaron Geramipoor for the past nine games because of a stress fracture in his left foot.
Still, the team is 12-4 overall, 1-2 in the Big East, opening up conference play with a win at DePaul before losing by 19 at Notre Dame.
Willard said the lack of depth due to injury was a key factor Wednesday night. "Brandon Mobley (game-high 18 points) has a great first half," Willard said. "(But) he's not getting any breathers. ... He just wears down, he becomes very ineffective.
"It's been a little crazy, but that's part of sports. You just gotta kind of deal with it, and I think we've dealt with it pretty well."
Junior swingman Fuquan Edwin has emerged as the team's go-to guy, averaging 17.6 points per game -- the fifth-best scoring average in the Big East. But opponents are beginning to target him defensively. Louisville limited Edwin to 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
"It's a learning process for him," Willard said. "I think last night was really his first taste of what it's like to be a marked man. ... If we can get healthy, we can get going back up and down the court a little bit, I think that'll loosen things up."
And it appears Seton Hall is getting healthier. Oliver is expected to miss two more games, but then return against South Florida on Jan. 23. Geramipoor is expected to play limited minutes in Seton Hall's next game, Sunday at home against Providence (8-7, 0-3 Big East).
A win against the last-place Friars, and the Pirates are right in the thick of things, at 2-2 in the conference.
Expectations were low this season -- Seton Hall was picked to finish 14th in the 15-team Big East. But if a banged-up Pirates squad can challenge Louisville, perhaps a healthier team can win a few more games than predicted.
"Right now we're getting close to being able to kinda get back to normalcy," Willard said. "I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel."