Commentary

NCAA destiny slips from Hall's grasp

Pirates' stumble against Louisville throws tournament hopes up in the air

Updated: March 8, 2012, 1:24 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- You couldn't stop looking at Jordan Theodore's eyes.

Seton Hall's senior point guard answered all the questions asked of him in the press conference following Seton Hall's 61-55 loss to Louisville on Wednesday night.

But those eyes -- red, moist -- said even more.

The goal Theodore has been working towards all year, the fate of his final collegiate season, is now out of his hands. Four days from now, he'll have to sit and watch television, helpless, to find out if his dream will come true.

And there's a very real chance it will not.

"It's really tough," said Theodore. "For me and Herb [Pope] at the end of our Seton Hall careers, especially just leaving it up to the selection committee on Sunday -- we wanted to go out there and just prove a point, and we came up short tonight."

Fuquan Edwin
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFuquan Edwin and the Pirates will have to sweat it out on Sunday.

Seton Hall -- with a record of 20-12, 8-10 in the Big East -- is most definitely on the NCAA tournament bubble, and precariously positioned upon it. The Pirates appeared well on their way to the Big Dance, their first since 2006, after pounding No. 8-ranked Georgetown 73-55 two weeks ago. But back-to-back losses to Rutgers and last-place DePaul (by 28 points!) to end the regular season put them back in harm's way.

They took care of business in the opening round of the Big East tourney on Tuesday, blowing away 15th-seeded Providence. But many thought they needed one more quality win to punch their NCAA ticket.

Instead, they fell just short. In a game that was far from easy on the eyes, Louisville took a 23-22 halftime lead, with both teams shooting under 28 percent from the field. In the second half, Seton Hall's shots continued to carom every which way, while Louisville opened on a 16-4 run and led by as many as 15, 43-28, with 11:26 to play.

Up to that point, Seton Hall had made just nine of 35 shots from the field (25.7 percent), and was clearly bothered by Louisville's 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng, who had six blocked shots on the night and altered several others.

Still, Seton Hall kept attacking. The Pirates managed to whittle the lead down to seven, 50-43. And then Theodore -- who was named second-team All-Big East earlier this week, but had just five points in the first 34 minutes and change of this game -- took over.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward that "our goal tonight was one thing and only one thing, and that's to wear out Theodore. We just wanted to wear him out."

But they couldn't quite do it. Theodore kept penetrating, and kept popping from the perimeter, and poured in 12 points in the final 5:33 of the game.

Unfortunately for Seton Hall, it wasn't enough.

The Pirates closed within five points on four different occasions down the stretch, but the Cardinals answered every time. Seton Hall even got it to four in the final minute, on Theodore's final trey -- but that was as close as it got.

"I think early on in the game they did a good job of pressuring me a lot and wearing me down," said Theodore, "but towards the end of the game I just didn't want to lose. I wanted to win so bad, and not just for myself but for [Pope], for Coach. I just wanted to leave it all out there for Seton Hall."

That is a goal he accomplished, without question.

As for his team's NCAA tournament chances, coach Kevin Willard gave his stump speech after the game -- as well he should have. He talked about winning 20 games, and having the fourth-highest RPI rating at the end of the nonconference season, and being the only Big East team that had to play three road games in a row.

"Yeah, I believe this team deserves to be playing and hear its name called on Sunday," said Willard. "Our total résumé is as good as anyone's out there."

But we all know that's not true. There are a lot better résumés out there -- maybe even 68 of them.

For now, all Willard and his players can do is talk.

Talk, and wait.

Actually, maybe there are a couple more things they can do.

"I'm just going to get in the gym, get better and just pray," said Theodore. "That's all we can do."

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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