Friday, November 24, 2017

5 Thoughts: Seton Hall upended by Rhode Island in NIT Season Tip-Off

Jared Terrell's go-ahead runner in final seconds was enough for Rhode Island to upset No. 20 Seton Hall in NIT Season Tip-Off. Terrell's 32 points led all scorers. (Photo by the New York Daily News)

BROOKLYN -- Seton Hall came into Thanksgiving Day with the chance to begin two weeks of resume building, taking on a Rhode Island team with Top 25 potential in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center.

Resume building was still talked about after the final buzzer, but mostly in the case of the opposing team, as the Rams clipped the 20th-ranked Pirates, 75-74, on Jared Terrell's runner with 5.2 seconds left. The senior, who led all scorers with 32 points; which he racked up on just 17 shots, was the beneficiary of a backcourt violation whistled against Angel Delgado with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, and his last bucket proved to be the game-winner when Khadeen Carrington was unable to get a shot off at the horn.

With the victory, Rhode Island advances to Friday's championship game, where they will face Virginia, a winner over Vanderbilt in the first game of Thursday's doubleheader. Seton Hall, on the heels of their first loss of the season, is relegated to the consolation game, where they will square off against Bryce Drew's Commodores with a tip time approaching 10 p.m.

Filling in for Jason Guerette on this Thanksgiving night that has now given way to Black Friday, here are our traditional five thoughts as the scene has shifted from feasting to taking advantage of sales, or in the case of the Pirates, salvaging a pivotal stretch of the non-conference schedule:

1) Should Kevin Willard have called a timeout on the final play of the game?
Seton Hall had two timeouts remaining, and the prospect of calling for a reset following Terrell's go-ahead basket was broached in the postgame press conference. Many coaches prefer to let their teams play through adversity, North Carolina's Roy Williams being one of the leading proponents of this school of thought, and Willard appeared to follow a similar script.

"Sometimes when a team hits a shot that goes up one with that much time left, and five seconds is a lot, sometimes when you have a player that you trust in Khadeen, you let him go try to make a play," Willard explained, his confidence in Carrington shining through once again even after his point guard was denied by Rhode Island's Fatts Russell. "The kid Russell made a good play getting his hand on the ball and knocking it loose, but sometimes you've got to let your senior guard go try to make a play towards the end of the game."

The debate over whether Willard should have talked it over will continue to be a raging topic over the next several hours, but one positive should be taken away here, that being the coach's full trust in Carrington being able to deliver with the game on the line. Willard has placed a great amount of faith in his point guards over the years, from Jordan Theodore to Sterling Gibbs to Isaiah Whitehead, and Carrington seems to be the latest in that line. And almost every Pirate fan will agree that despite Thursday's loss being a crushing setback in the short term, it is better to go through this now and learn something about your team before conference play than to experience a loss of this magnitude in the heat of Big East play and risk it snowballing into a downward spiral going into February and March.

2) "We lost this game in the first half."
Willard lamented the 54 points Rhode Island was able to score at the Pirates' expense in the opening stanza, the highest point total yielded since surrendering 50 to Creighton in the first half of Seton Hall's Big East opener last December, and with good reason. Rhode Island torched the nets in the home of the Brooklyn Nets, shooting nearly 61 percent from the floor over the first 20 minutes and connecting on seven of their nine three-point field goal attempts. The Rams cooled off in the second half and were limited after Ismael Sanogo made his customary defensive impact, but by then, the damage had already been done.

"We were really flat defensively, for some reason, in the first half," a morose Willard assessed. "I can't figure it out. For us, I didn't like our defensive intensity whatsoever."

3) Some insight behind Seton Hall's slow starts thus far this season:
Following the Pirates' victory over NJIT last Saturday, Willard attributed the time it took for his team to get in rhythm to the opposing team giving Seton Hall its best shot, something he conceded given the prospect of local teams facing their geographic rivals as the Pirates had also done against the likes of Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth. But after his team could not stop Rhode Island's transition game in the first half, allowing the Rams to dictate the terms of the game from a tempo perspective, Willard offered a different outlook.

"It's something that I'm now going to take a look at," he stated. "I didn't mind the starts we were getting off to, but defensively, we've got to get off to better starts. I'm going to have to try to mix and match a little just to get us off to a better start defensively. It's really not offensively, it's kind of defensively that we're just coming out a little flat."

4) Stopping the backcourt was the biggest key to victory for Rhode Island.
Dan Hurley, coaching against his alma mater for just the second time in his career, reflected on the emotion involved in facing the Pirates (even after Terrell insisted that the coach did not bring it up before the game), but at the end of the day, knew that the sentimental subplot took a back seat to business. Animated throughout the night with his trademark passion and intensity, Hurley's smaller lineup reflected their coach's hard-nosed aggression and drive, a quality assistant coach Tom Moore praised when he referred to the Rams as "junkyard dogs" before the game. With E.C. Matthews and Cyril Langevine both unavailable due to injury, knocking off All-American candidate Angel Delgado seemed like a tall order until Hurley revealed his master plan of neutralizing Carrington, Myles Powell, and Desi Rodriguez.

"We didn't care if Delgado chewed us to death," he admitted after giving up 18 points and 14 rebounds to the 6-foot-10 Haggerty Award winner. "We wanted to keep Carrington, Powell and Rodriguez kind of around 40 points if possible. We felt like if we kept them to 40 points between the three of them, we would win. We didn't do as good a job on Powell. but to hold Carrington to 12 on 12 shots and to hold Desi Rodriguez to 12 points on 13 shots, that was our focal point."

5) Up next for the Pirates:
Seton Hall's first shot at cleaning up the meat of their non-conference slate comes against a 2-3 Vanderbilt team projected to finish 15-16, but the present owner of a 58 KenPom rating. An undefeated Texas Tech team currently 16th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings looms after that in Thursday's Under Armour Reunion at Madison Square Garden, followed by a Top 25 program in Louisville before VCU comes to Newark for the Never Forget Tribute Classic on the Pirates' home floor at the Prudential Center. If Seton Hall can come away with wins in three of those four contests, which is a reasonable expectation, the loss to Rhode Island will be lessened somewhat.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Kevin Willard quote book: Rhode Island

On Khadeen Carrington's attempt to win the game in the final seconds and not calling a timeout:
"Yeah, sometimes when a team hits a shot that goes up one with that much time left, and five seconds is a lot, sometimes when you have a player that you trust in Khadeen, you let him go try to make a play. The kid Russell made a good play getting his hand on the ball and knocking it loose, but sometimes you've got to let your senior guard go try to make a play towards the end of the game."

On defending Jared Terrell:
"He just played phenomenal. He made a really tough shot over three guys. He played phenomenal, played like -- under poise all game, plays 38 minutes and he didn't look like he played 20 minutes, so he just played phenomenal. We actually switched into a zone to try to -- if they did run a pick-and-roll -- that both our guards...but they rejected it, and he made a really tough runner."

On whether Rhode Island's smaller lineup was a concern:
"The funny thing, watching them against Holy Cross, obviously E.C. Matthews is a phenomenal guard, but it just kind of -- Terrell is a really tough matchup and he just becomes more of a focus point, and when you throw (Stanford) Robinson in there, he's only about 6-foot-3, it was, but I thought we did a good job on the offensive end at times getting the ball inside. We just did a little bit too much one-on-one tonight."

On adjustments with Myles Powell in the second half:
"They didn't leave him. He actually had two good looks that -- again, he's unselfish -- he passed up. He made a really nice, unselfish play to kick it to Khadeen, and we have to do a better job of trying to find him a little bit and understand that he's such a weapon on the floor."

On this game helping Seton Hall later in the season:
"We knew going in this stretch going forward, the next six games, every game's going to be brutal. Danny and his staff did a great job, and I love the kid -- I love the way his kids play. They play really tough and really hard-nosed."

On Seton Hall's slow starts:
"I don't know -- it's something that I'm now going to take a look at, because I didn't mind the starts we were getting off to, but defensively, we've got to get off to better starts. I'm going to have to try to mix and match a little just to get us off to a better start defensively. It's really not offensively, it's kind of defensively that we're just coming out a little flat."

On his message to the team after the game and what he may have told them:
"We lost that game in the first half. I don't think we've ever given up 54 points as a team in a half. If we come out good defensive intensity and it's 45-45 at half, you're giving yourself a much better chance to win the game. You're down nine and giving up 54. If we had played with the same defensive intensity (in the first half) and given up 21 in the second, I'd like our chances better."

On what he as a coach could do after giving up 61 percent from the floor: (Rhode Island shot 17-of-28 in the first half)
"We gave up three threes just -- again, for us, it's a little bit more of a defensive mentality, a little bit more of an intensity. We were really flat defensively, for some reason, in the first half. I just -- I can't figure it out. Again, we haven't given up -- we've never given up 60 percent, we've never given up 45 -- I can't remember the last time we gave up more than 40 in a half, to be honest with you. For us, I didn't like our defensive intensity whatsoever."

On Seton Hall's morale after the game:
"They'll bounce back. We've lost games before. You're going to lose games, and we've got to get ready and bounce back tomorrow."

On offensive rebounds and keeping plays alive:
"I actually didn't think we had as many as we should have. We average 16 a game, so we were two below our average. That's kind of what we do. We play that way."

Tom Moore grateful for second chance, relishing opportunity at Rhode Island

Eight months removed from his firing at Quinnipiac, Tom Moore has resurfaced on staff at Rhode Island, where he is both grateful for and taking advantage of opportunity to remain relevant with Atlantic 10 favorite Rams. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

BROOKLYN -- One look at Tom Moore's resume reflects his status as one of college basketball's proven winners, even if his time in charge at Quinnipiac may be ultimately; and perhaps wrongfully in the eyes of some, defined by two seasons that were uncharacteristic of his overall body of work.

So it is for the former Jim Calhoun assistant, who was dismissed after a decade with the Bobcats and a career 162-150 record that included four postseason appearances, but ended on the disappointing note of a 19-42 record in his final two campaigns at the helm, prompting athletic director Greg Amodio to seek a change of leadership and hire Baker Dunleavy this past March.

Determined to remain in the inner circle of the game, Moore latched on rather quickly as an assistant coach and did not have to travel very far in doing so, landing a spot on the staff of Dan Hurley and reigning Atlantic 10 Conference champion Rhode Island, a team with Top 25 aspirations that projects to be among the nation's top mid-majors this season. And just two weeks into the year, the transition has been a smooth one, marked by the pure gratitude of just being able to have another chance to educate and develop players.

"The transition's been great," Moore said as he and the Rhode Island program embarks upon two games at Barclays Center this week in the NIT Season Tip-Off, first facing No. 20 Seton Hall Thursday evening before meeting either Vanderbilt or Virginia the following day. "I've really enjoyed it. Danny's given me a great opportunity here, being able to join a program that he's put so much blood, sweat and tears into building. This program is one of the better programs in the Atlantic 10, and also with their performance last year, staking their claim to having a national reputation as well. The timing, for me, couldn't have been better. I feel almost like I felt back in 1994 when I joined UConn at a time when the program was sort of reaching its highest point."

And in his new boss, the qualities he possesses are almost hauntingly similar to Calhoun, under whom Moore served as a lieutenant on staff for 13 years at the University of Connecticut, playing an integral part in the construction of two national championship rosters as the Huskies became part of college basketball's upper crust.

"It's scary," Moore said of the similarities between Hurley and Calhoun, the hallmark intensity being just one shared trait among the two. "I mean that in nothing but the highest compliment. They have very, very similar personalities, and they have a drive and a toughness that can pull a program through tough spots in games, through tough spots of a schedule, through tough spots in practice. There's just a combativeness and a toughness about each of them that, I think, raises the level of everybody associated with the program. Players are the obvious ones that benefit from it, but I think assistant coaches benefit from it as well, and you want to get to a point where you want to be on the same level that they're competing at. It really sort of permeates everybody else in the program, and it's a good feeling working for somebody like that."

It is Hurley's unbridled determination that helped lead Moore to Kingston after ten years in Hamden, and just part of the total package that the 52-year-old has inherited, a situation that he considers himself greatly fortunate to have received so soon after his head coaching career was at a crossroads just eight months ago.

"It's funny, when I had to go in another direction, I had to take stock of, really, what my next move would be," Moore recollected. "I had to do some soul searching. I realized that I didn't want to take a year off. I didn't want to -- as down as I was physically and emotionally after two tough seasons at Quinnipiac -- I felt like I wanted to get back into it."

Enter Hurley, an adversary turned tag team partner with whom Moore's relationship has evolved over the past two decades, beginning when the son of New Jersey high school royalty was the head coach at St. Benedict's Prep and Moore was an assistant to Calhoun, and weaving a new chapter when the pair coached against one another in the Northeast Conference; Moore at Quinnipiac, Hurley at Wagner for two seasons before his meteoric rise took yet another soaring flight.

"When you've been your own boss for ten years, it's a unique challenge to not be a boss anymore," Moore reflected. "I felt if I had to do this, I felt like I wanted to be an assistant for somebody that I really respected and felt I could work with. I reached out to Danny and I reached out to Steve Pikiell. Those were the first two people that I felt like I could work best with, for a bunch of different reasons. There was not an opportunity at Rutgers and there was an opportunity here, so I felt fortunate that the timing was really on my side. I was sure that I did not want to pick just any job for the sake of staying in it. I wanted to work for somebody I had a real familiarity with and a really high respect level for, and that opportunity arose here."

A natural side effect of moving back into the assistant coach's chair is the necessity to prove oneself and start over, in a sense, but Moore has embraced that challenge head-on. His success in developing all-conference forwards the likes of Justin Rutty, Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame was enough for Hurley to have his new deputy cultivate the skill sets of Rhode Island's front line, which must replace Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson this season, but possesses a burgeoning all-league talent in former Patrick School standout Cyril Langevine, now a fortnight into his sophomore season.

"This business is very, very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, so you constantly feel like you have to improve the job you're doing, in whatever job you have," said Moore. "This is a frontcourt here that has great potential, but it's very inexperienced in relation to our backcourt, so I've taken that as a challenge. It's something that has been difficult for me in practice settings and in game settings, shifting my focus from how our team is doing; which I'd been used to doing for ten years and trying to look at the whole every single day, and now trying to sharpen my focus to more of a select group of players and maybe watch them more than watch the whole."

"I've tried to get better at that, and I think this year is allowing me to sharpen my recruiting contacts; and people in the business will understand what I mean, and go back to recruiting like an assistant a little bit more, focusing on a couple of guys and giving them more attention than I was able to give as a head coach. Those are a couple of things that I feel are going to be beneficial to me this year."

Moore admitted that he was disappointed in how it ended at Quinnipiac, as any coach would be when unable to see a vision of long-term success through, conveying his excitement about what the future could have held with Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference All-Rookie for Peter Kiss and Mikey Dixon; the latter of whom was the conference's Rookie of the Year, along with forward Chaise Daniels, had they all remained together. But despite the premature ending, he remains proud of what he and his staff accomplished in building the Bobcats into one of New England's most consistent winners over his decade-long reign; including a swift arrival onto the MAAC landscape, and while he is hopeful that his time on staff at Rhode Island may soon enable him to get a second chance to take over a program of his own, he is simply appreciative of the fortuitous circumstances that have given him the opportunity to be part of a mid-major that is projected by many to have a fruitful postseason run come March.

"To be totally honest with you, I don't really know which way the road will take me right now," he hypothesized. "I'm excited about this role. I know I still have a passion for it, and I think I could do a very good job in a lot of different spots. I think someday if the opportunity were to come around, I'd be excited to lead a program again. But like I said, I couldn't be in a better situation, and I feel real grateful to Danny for this opportunity."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Slimmer and a lethal scorer, Myles Powell making a name for himself at Seton Hall

Down 45 pounds since his arrival on campus, Myles Powell continues to grow into his new frame and new role as starting shooting guard at Seton Hall. (Photo by Wendell Cruz/SHUHoops.com)

One year and 45 pounds ago, the massive hype surrounding Myles Powell was officially introduced to the public as Seton Hall prepared to begin its Big East Conference championship defense.

"We knew we were getting a very talented player," head coach Kevin Willard said in his press conference at the Pirates' annual preseason media day.

The scoring prowess of Powell, a highly touted prep star in the Garden State at Trenton Catholic High School, had been documented even before the 6-foot-2 guard had inked his letter of intent signifying the taking of his talents to South Orange. But with the insatiable ability to produce points on the scoreboard came an equally ravenous appetite, one that contributed to the nickname "Cheese" and to tipping the scales at 240 pounds by the time he set foot on Seton Hall's campus for the first time.

Since then, however, he has undergone both a physical transformation both on and off the court, now weighing in at a svelte 195 pounds and building off an impressive freshman season that saw him average nearly 11 points per game as a reserve while the Pirates reached their second consecutive NCAA Tournament. And while it may be easy to say one will go on a diet, it is a completely different story to actually adhere to it, which Powell has.

"Hard work always pays off," the sophomore said after Seton Hall's defeat of Monmouth on November 12, one in which his 18 points were largely vital to the Pirates overcoming a valiant effort from their in-state rivals. "Last year, I was still battling with my weight, still trying to figure it out. Now I feel like I've got it under control and I can move the way I want to move on the court. My conditioning is up, my wind is up, and now I can play at a high level on both ends of the floor."

A commitment to renewed focus on improving his already rich skill set, and also to salads instead of sandwiches, has yielded noticeable results. In four games this season, Powell has scored 10 or more points in each of those contests, with his 13 points per game over two points higher than his season average of a year ago. His defense, which at times was a question mark as a rookie, has also taken on a life of its own, growing in lockstep with the emphasis that Willard has placed on that side of the basketball as Seton Hall carries a Top 25 ranking through the month of November.

"He's unbelievable," Angel Delgado candidly assessed of Powell and his commitment to staying in shape, a dedication that Willard has called an addiction. "When Myles came here, he weighed more than me. One day, he was 240 and I'm like, 'What? I'm 235!' I still can't get that. He put a lot of work in every single day, getting in the gym with us. He put a lot of work in, and now to me, he's the best shooter in the country, and he's got to keep doing what he's doing right now."

"It's been a big transformation, especially coming out of high school," Khadeen Carrington, his backcourt partner, elaborated. "He dropped all that weight, he did a great job during the year, and he made a big leap from his freshman year to his sophomore year. I think he's doing a great job, and we're going to need him throughout the year."

Powell played through multiple slumps in his freshman season, but retained the votes of confidence cast by Willard and his teammates, taking refuge in the quiet calm of Walsh Gymnasium when he needed an escape.

"Whenever I have bad days or I'm not feeling like myself," he said, "I just go to the gym and shoot."

With that, and his insertion into the starting lineup following the graduation of Madison Jones and shifting of Carrington to the point guard spot, has spurred on an increased role in the offense that Powell has met head-on, to rave reviews and predictions that the best for the future face of the Pirates is truly yet to come.

"He's going to have a night where he has 47 (points), I'm just telling you right now," Willard boldly proclaimed after Seton Hall made short work of Indiana. "I think the biggest difference in us last year to this year is the fact that he's always two shots away from breaking the game open. You just can't leave him."

"He hasn't played nearly as well as he has in practice, and I think once he gets his game legs under him, once he gets in his rhythm, I still think you haven't really seen what we've seen so far."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Terriers get first win of season in thriller against Brown

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

BROOKLYN -- The names once woke the memory from a bit of a nap. Montague, Henry, Clinton, and Hicks, and finally, Remsen Street. It had been years since venturing to a locale frequented a fair amount of times in the past.

If you have never been to the school and do not pay attention, you might walk past. St. Francis Brooklyn’s main campus building can be mistaken for an office. Regardless, the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood (“Moonstruck” was filmed here) lends charm, and a first-time visitor is certain they will come back. Inside the Pope Physical Education Center, the lighting was noticeably improved and the paint job applied since my last visit gave a better viewing.
On this day, the Terriers; of the Northeast Conference, hosted Brown, of the Ivy League. The Bears entered at 2-0, coming off a road win at Quinnipiac. St. Francis came in winless at 0-2, trying to bounce back from an overtime heartbreaker at Manhattan a few nights earlier.
Attempting to dissect the first half difference in the 42-34 St. Francis lead, from a vantage point of offense and defense with the various adjustments of both coaches, proved to be difficult. St. Francis actively looked for and shot the three, making seven of their 15 attempts. Brown, coached by Mike Martin, was enjoying some success with  ball screen action. Getting down to basics, it boiled down to turnovers. Brown was guilty of 10 in the opening stanza. The host Terriers lost the ball a mere four times in their 34 opportunities. The game is simple, the experts say. They are so right.

The second half saw Brown trim the lead in the first few possessions. Through most of the period, the script stayed the same. Brown would draw within two possessions, St. Francis would answer and rebuild the lead. Brown would then regroup and come right back, refusing to go away, even taking the lead on a Brandon Anderson three-pointer with just under four minutes remaining. The Terriers answered at the foul line, regaining a lead they would not relinquish. There were anxious moments right up until the end. Nursing a three-point lead, St. Francis saw Brown push the ball, getting an open look beyond the arc. Collective hearts skipped a beat. Anderson’s attempt had eyes, but rimmed. St. Francis held on, 77-74.
“It’s great to get the win obviously,” Terriers head coach Glenn Braica said after addressing his team. “These guys are still learning. We have to learn to play with a lead. That you cannot simulate in practice. It is a learning process. We will be good, these guys are exciting.” The learning will take time, as Braica said he has a half-dozen players on his roster with just three games, not years, of Division I experience. He did get excited over the perimeter ability. The Terriers, led by Rasheem Dunn (23 points) and Jalen Jordan (22), shot 10-of-27 from distance.
“This team can shoot,” Braica said. “The team we had two years ago (NEC regular season champions) were not great shooters. They won by knowing how to win. They had the experience.”

Brown proved a worthy test on this Sunday afternoon. “They play a style we really do not see in our conference. They are good. They presented problems for us. I thought it was a good game to learn from.”

Photo Gallery

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Kevin Willard quote book: NJIT

*All quotes courtesy of Seton Hall University's Facebook Live stream*

On why Angel Delgado did not play for the final 18:14 of regulation:
"On one of the last drives, he tripped over Abdul's leg (NJIT's Abdul Lewis), kind of -- nothing major, just a little calf -- kind of minor thing and then I just wasn't gonna put him back in. He's logged a lot of minutes already early in the season, so the big fella, he's been a workhorse, so I wasn't gonna mess around with that and just technically give him kind of a night off, which he deserves."

On Sandro Mamukelashvili (11 points, 9 rebounds) filling in for Delgado:
"Yeah, Sandro -- that was the frustrating thing with Sandro. We had a great talk last night, watched some film. It was so minor with some of the stuff he was getting frustrated on, it was just showing him that he was doing everything right, but he was just a second late, a step slow, or maybe just in the wrong position. Just fixing those things is going to put him in position to get a rebound, to get something going good his way, and I thought he gave us great energy."

On slow starts in each of Seton Hall's first four games:
"You're gonna -- especially when you play local teams, you're going to get their best shot, especially early. I think our depth is kind of helping wearing teams down, but you're going to get everyone's best shot that first 10, 12, 13 minutes. We've had some good runs early. It's just sustaining that energy early on, but for the most part, I felt comfortable where we are."

On Seton Hall's difference in the second half:
"I thought we really did a good job on them defensively, making them take tough shots. That led us to some easy buckets, and I thought we were more efficient offensively. I thought the ball went more from side-to-side, guys were kind of getting second and third ball reversals. That gave us some great drives."

On Isaiah Whitehead's tweet predicting Myles Cale would be a program legend:



"I have no comment."

On Eron Gordon and his role as Khadeen Carrington's backup at point guard:
"Yeah, I thought EG did a really good job. Three assists, seven points, I thought he defended really well. I thought he was a little more comfortable in that position considering that Jordan's going to be out for about three weeks, maybe a little bit more than that. I thought throwing him into the fire against Indiana was a little tough, but I thought he looked much more comfortable out there and had a better feeling for what we were trying to do."

On Jordan Walker and his thumb injury:
"He has a torn ligament in his thumb. He could have played and we could have taped it up, he could have went the season, but we decided to go the safe route, just make sure we get it healed now and we don't have to mess with it at the end of the year."

On Desi Rodriguez:
"Desi's an elite player. That's all I'm gonna say about Desi right now. He's put the work in, he's got the confidence, he's scoring in so many different ways. He's just -- he's playing at a very high level with his brain, too. He's not a one-dimensional player, which makes him tough to defend, and he's finally embraced the fact that he can get an easy bucket posting up, getting on the break, and he can obviously do what he needs to do outside."

On Thursday's matchup against Rhode Island:
"I really can't do much besides get ready for the game. I think we're celebrating Thanksgiving on Sunday because we're off Saturday. We'll celebrate Thanksgiving as a team Sunday."

"I think every time, obviously going forward, most of the teams we play, it's a good opportunity for us. Obviously Rhody, Danny (Hurley) has done a phenomenal job there, you've got Vandy, Virginia, then you've got Texas Tech coming up, you've got Louisville coming up, VCU. We have a stretch right now where everyone on our schedule gives us a good opportunity."

2K Classic: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK -- There was a time when everyone started practice October 15. Games began following Thanksgiving. The early games were largely matchups or to benefit the stronger team(s). Times have definitely changed.

Now, teams begin practice earlier, and get a few scrimmages and exhibitions in before an opening just prior to mid-November. And not all games see sacrificial play-for-pay lambs take to the road. You have tournaments like the just finished 2K Classic, held at the basketball Mecca of Madison Square Garden, annually a challenging and competitive one.

This year’s edition was no exception. The record will show Providence emerging the champion. The Friars of the Big East dismantled an up-and-coming Saint Louis squad, 90-63, in the championship. One team emerges unblemished, two leave at.500, a last comes up empty in two encounters. That is a harsh, number-related truth but beyond that for all four programs, there was something to take home.
Providence not only took home the title, but found out a lot about its overall depth, a big factor as the year progresses. Saint Louis scored a semifinal upset, then their relatively young team was reminded about the demands of competing on this level. Virginia Tech, following the loss to Saint Louis, found the resiliency to bounce back a day later. Washington, after playing Providence tough, was also dealt a cruel reminder of the need to be ready.

The turkey is yet to be carved and the teams here, and in other locales, are finding out so much about themselves. For the fans, this time of year brings a treat of high-level, March-like competition. Thankfully, those bygone days, in this competitive case at least, are a distant memory.

A reminder from the nearby concession stand that it is a game night at the Garden:
A panoramic view of the World's Most Famous Arena:
Virginia Tech huddles during a timeout:
Washington taking the floor prior to their semifinal contest against Providence:
The mythical Billiken, flanked by Ray and Saint Louis' cheerleaders, in a photo op confirming its legend and existence:
Washington head coach Mike Hopkins, a former Jim Boeheim assistant, looks on as his Huskies battle Providence:
Saint Louis at the free throw line against Providence:
The band from Lyndhurst High School, filling in for Saint Louis' regular pep band:
Saint Louis head coach Travis Ford, in a dialogue with official Brian Dorsey:
Providence's spirit squads with the 2K Classic championship sign:
Providence point guard Kyron Cartwright and head coach Ed Cooley meet the media:

Manhattan 73, Harvard 69: 5 Observations

Calvin Crawford recorded double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds as Manhattan defeated Harvard to move to 2-0 heading to Gulf Coast Showcase. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- An 18-point lead in the first half gave way to a six-point deficit with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, but Manhattan was able to recover, scoring 10 of the next 12 points thereafter to defeat Harvard by a 73-69 final tally, winning their second straight contest to open 2017-18. With that said, here is the first edition of observations of the young season as the Jaspers leave Draddy Gymnasium and head to Florida for three games in the Gulf Coast Showcase:

1) Calvin predestined to make an impact?
Calvin Crawford, in his first full season as a starter with the Jaspers, has shown his ability to change games early and often, even in a small two-game sample size. The 6-foot-8 senior chipped in with 11 points and five rebounds against St. Francis Brooklyn Wednesday, and improved upon that with a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double against a Harvard team against whom he exploited a mismatch in the first half.

"I think he's benefitting from playing with really good players," Steve Masiello said of Crawford's beginning to the season. "I think that's when you notice him, because you forget about Calvin. We have all these guys, and then oh, by the way, here's Calvin cleaning up scraps and going by guys and making plays. He's really doing a good job of defensive rebounding, that's what I'm most proud about. He has to learn when he's making some shots to put it on the floor and go by people, because he should get to the rim and the foul line more. We've got to get him to play a little more aggressive."

"He's multi-dimensional," Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker reflected, praising Crawford, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in the first half. "They posted him up on a big possession out of the timeout and he came through with a three-point play, so I just think he's a very versatile offensive player. His threes really hurt us, and I thought he did a fantastic job."

2) "I thought Rhamel Brown was back."
That was Masiello's assessment of Rich Williams' leadership in timeouts during the second half, as Harvard erased the Jaspers' 18-point lead with a commanding 37-13 run. Manhattan's 2-0 start is largely attributed to the impact and heart of Williams, something that was greatly lacking as he missed the entire season last year.

"He doesn't panic," Masiello said of the fifth-year senior, who is the most experienced player not just on the Manhattan roster, but also in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. "I literally was in the timeouts and I thought Rhamel Brown was back, and he's like, 'Everyone, just relax, calm down. We're gonna win the game, let's defend, get stops, play by play,' and I was like, 'I'm gonna hire this kid. He sounds like a good coach.'"

"I say it all the time: It's a blessing just to be out there with the guys," said Williams, who led all scorers with 20 points three days after scoring 21 against St. Francis Brooklyn, reaching the 20-point plateau in consecutive games for the first time since November 2015, when he turned the trick against George Mason and Fordham. "More importantly than anything, it's all about defense. I'm trying to get in that defensive mindset and just coming off a hot start, 2-0, all the work we put in, like the 5:30 a.m. (practices), getting after it every day, it's just a relief. We do know that we've got more work that we need to do to get where we need to be."

3) On Aaron Walker's maturation:
The sophomore and former Cardozo standout was inconsistent at times on the defensive end in his rookie season, but still showed flashes of brilliance and the ability to be a star player in this program before he calls it a career in Riverdale. On Saturday, Walker's defense was ultimately what helped win the game for the Jaspers, as he spent the majority of his 23 minutes diving for loose balls, pressuring Harvard's Bryce Aiken and immersing himself in the culture that has become the epitome of Manhattan basketball over the years.

"I guess I've improved a lot," a modest Walker assessed of his renewed defensive prowess. "It's something I've been working on this whole summer, ever since the last game we lost in the MAAC Tournament. I got in the gym, got with the coaches and kept working."

"I'm really proud of his growth," Masiello echoed. "From a maturity standpoint, I think last year, this was a game where early in the game if a couple of things didn't go his way or if he didn't get a call, we might have lost him. We were talking a lot about a team ego, and I think he's really bought into team ego. He won the last game for us with a dig, the ball goes down the post and he slaps it loose. Tonight, he had two big plays on Bryce, getting in front of him and turning him. His mentality is going in the right direction. He's got a lot of work to do, but we're happy with where he is right now."

The matchup with Aiken, a Top 100 recruit and star at The Patrick School before signing with Harvard, was of particular interest for Walker, who was playfully reminded by his coach about the task at hand.

"The first thing Coach said when he saw me was Bryce was looking for me," Walker quipped. "I just came here with the mindset to do whatever I had to do to win."

4) A character-building win for the Jaspers:
As noted, last season's Manhattan team may have struggled with a team of Harvard's caliber, especially once the Crimson pulled ahead. But on this day, the Jaspers' resilient front and ability to play through adversity helped secure a victory that will shape the foundation of a team picked second in the MAAC during the conference portion of the schedule, where higher expectations will be placed in front of them.

"We're where we should be," Masiello revealed before Manhattan competes in the Gulf Coast Showcase, playing three games in as many days in a tournament setting. "We have a lot of work to do if we want to do the things we talk about privately as an organization, but I'm really proud of how they've handled themselves in the tests we've had. I think they've handled themselves very well."

5) Déjà vu?
The last time Manhattan was 2-0 to open a season was in 2013-14, when the Jaspers went on the road and prevailed in double overtime against La Salle before George Beamon's last-second heroics wrapped up a victory at Columbia that was marked by the team riding the No. 1 train to and from Levien Gymnasium. The records may be the same four years later, but with the ultimate end game still four months away, the similarities thus far bear a striking parallel.

"It's crazy," said Williams, who was a freshman on the 2013-14 team that ended up winning a MAAC championship and nearly upsetting Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. "We went to overtime in the last game, and that happened our first game against La Salle. The following game was a little different, we played against Columbia and George tipped it in the final seconds. Today, we were up a lot of points but we came back, so just to see us fight back, it was similar in that sense, that adversity we faced. It's a good start, a good stepping stone in the right direction."

Manhattan outlasts Harvard to win second straight

Rich Williams' 20 points led Manhattan and all scorers as Jaspers led by as many as 18 and then had to come back after giving up second-half run to Harvard, surviving Crimson to open season 2-0. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Last season, Manhattan was ultimately defined by an inability to respond to playing from behind. En route to a 10-22 record, there were repeated instances where the Jaspers seemingly lost their composure when trailing by two or more possessions, often seeing the game in front of them spiral out of control.

Now owners of one of the more experienced outfits in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and a reinvigorated commitment to returning to the postseason for a third time in five seasons, the response to a six-point deficit with just over six minutes remaining in regulation was a resolve similar to the fights forged by the championship-winning units of 2013-14 and 2014-15.

After visiting Harvard came storming back from the 18-point hole they had dug themselves to open up their aforementioned six-point cushion, it was Manhattan who flipped the game on its head, unleashing a 10-2 run in just over four minutes to defeat the Crimson by the final of 73-69 in front of a raucous Draddy Gymnasium crowd.

"The things I questioned about this team, they've shown me two games in a row now," Steve Masiello proudly remarked as the Jaspers (2-0) received 20 points from Rich Williams and 19 from Calvin Crawford to open the season with consecutive wins for the first time since their championship campaign of 2013-14, when La Salle and Columbia were the first of 25 teams to come up short against Manhattan. "A big part of that is Rich and the seniors, and that's just their ability to handle adversity. We talk about that a lot. I think really good teams, when they can handle adversity, that says a lot. It's not about your talent or what play you run, it's the mentality."

For a large portion of Saturday afternoon's matinee, it appeared as though adversity would not come into play for the home team, who took advantage of Harvard (2-2) being unable to find a comfort zone through a first half that started evenly portioned before the Jaspers' 1-2-2 matchup defense rattled the Crimson and created Manhattan's first major offensive opportunity, a 9-2 run started by Williams and punctuated by Crawford to swing the pendulum into the Jaspers' hands in the form of a 19-12 advantage. Harvard pulled within three points shortly thereafter, but Manhattan countered with a 17-2 outburst for their largest lead of the day, a 40-22 edge that became 40-25 at the intermission as the Crimson connected on a three-pointer by Danilo Djuricic moments before the horn.

The visitors' fortunes would improve out of the intermission, as Harvard; after spotting Tom Capuano the first points of the second stanza, scored the next 12 unanswered in a run that began and ended with Bryce Aiken, one of four players with double-digit point totals for the Crimson with 12 points on the day, helping to close the gap. This stretch was part of a 37-13 spurt bridging the end of the first half with the majority of the second half, a period of the game that culminated in a 59-53 Harvard lead with 6:11 to play after a 16-3 run put Manhattan in a two-possession hole.

But the Jaspers recovered, scoring six straight points to tie the game at 59, first on an Aaron Walker three-pointer before a pair of Crawford free throws and one out of two at the line from Zavier Turner. Harvard poked their heads in front again on a Rio Haskett three-pointer with 4:12 on the clock, but it was the last lead the Crimson would enjoy. Following two more free throws by Walker, the sophomore would strike again from the left wing, burying a three after Turner kicked it out to him from under the rim. Harvard pulled even once again on two foul shots by Chris Lewis, but Williams' fifth trifecta nearly a minute later provided the final lead change and the Brooklyn native's second career stretch of back-to-back 20-point games.

Ahead by three, at 67-64 with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, Manhattan added an extra two points on a fadeaway jumper by Walker, but were not completely out of the woods as the Crimson pulled within one on a Seth Towns trey with 63 seconds left. Turner split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to two in the final minute, leaving Harvard with a chance to tie, but Aiken's attempt at a layup fell off the rim and into the arms of Zane Waterman, who sank two free throws for the final margin on the scoreboard.

Manhattan was buoyed by a 10-for-17 performance from beyond the arc, with Williams accounting for half the triples while Crawford; who added 10 rebounds to his point total for a double-double, and Walker added three and two of their own, respectively. For Harvard, Towns led the way with 17 in a losing effort as the Jaspers held on to win a game that last season's team may have been unable to seal.

"With our style, you're gonna have runs," Masiello cautioned. "And you've got to be okay with that. We're gonna give up runs, and we call it fool's gold. But what you can't do is panic, and he (Williams) doesn't panic. I was really impressed with Rich's ability to lead us through adversity. That's the question mark I've had and so far, two times out, we've handled it well. We have a lot, a lot of room of improvement that we've got to work at, and we will."

Friars throttle Saint Louis to take 2K Classic championship

Providence, who won Big East championship at Madison Square Garden in 2014, leaves Big Apple with 2K Classic trophy after thrashing Saint Louis for crown. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- Providence, off a solid semifinal victory over Washington, faced a Saint Louis team thriving on a second upset opportunity following their defeat of Virginia Tech 24 hours prior. The Billikens were under the bright lights, but in the end, it was Providence getting rave reviews, by virtue of their decisive 90-63 victory.

Saint Louis’ length was a factor in employment of the 1-3-1 zone very early, as the Billikens battled on even terms. Providence (3-1) stepped up, taking an 18-13 lead, forcing Saint Louis coach Travis Ford to go man-to-man. Shortly after getting that lead, Ed Cooley made his own defensive adjustment, going from man to zone. Besides the sideline chess match, what transpired on the floor altered the course of the game.

“They just got physical,” Ford bluntly stated of the Friars. “We are a physical team and like to play that way, but our guys just didn’t respond. We did not play like who we are.”

Providence got inside, hit from the perimeter and made defensive stops while taking a 41-21 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Friars came out following the break with no hint that the championship already had their name engraved, opening the first four minutes of the final stanza with an 11-3 run, extending their lead to 28 points.

“We came out determined to execute our offense and continue to play good defense,” said point guard Kyron Cartwright, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player.  

In the final analysis this was not about glitz, glamour or showtime. With workmanlike effort, Providence put together a solid effort, outworking Saint Louis (3-1) on both ends of the floor.

“They were physical.” Ford said. “We just did not respond.”

Cooley, by his own admission, is not a numbers or analytics coach. “The only numbers important to me,” he once said, “are those numbers on the scoreboard when the clock reads 0:00.” He has since lightened a bit, urging his staff to chart plus-minus and even admitting to studying the results, deciding to go with veterans in the second half against Washington based on those numbers.

“Sometimes you come out and shoot 1-for-10,” he said. “Tonight, it seemed almost everything we put up went in.” Providence shot 62 percent from the field, including a blistering 9-for-10 in three-point field goals.

“Give them credit,” Ford said of the Friars. “They shot it so well and played at an amazingly high level.”

Providence had four in double figures and was led by Rodney Bullock with 15 points. That alone is significant, as Cooley is utilizing a number of players early. It appears to be working, as the Friars owned a 46-19 edge in bench points.

“Our bench took it up another level,” he said. “That is significant, as it builds chemistry and trust. We have a group where every player is confident when they step on the floor.”

The Big East Tournament, which will be Providence’s next visit to the Garden, is less than four months down the road. Regardless, Cooley spoke of how winning the tournament is a good prep for March Madness. Beyond, that he was pleased with the adjustment of his team and how they responded.

“We had a quick turnaround after yesterday,” he said. “Today, we had film, scouting reports and a walkthrough, roughly four hours of preparation with a game to play tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of our group, especially since we beat a Saint Louis team that will only get better and is hard to guard.”