– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEW YORK — While talking to the assembled media in the postgame press conference, Seton Hall guard Myles Cale walked though the game-ending sequence for his team on Saturday, one that culminated with his three-pointer lifting the Pirates to a win over a top-10 program at Madison Square Garden, with remarkable and surprising pragmatism: He took his time, pump-faked, then shot the ball and it went in. Simple as that, it sounded.
Everything leading up to his game-winner was all but simplistic.
Cale’s shot with eight seconds remaining in overtime was the crescendo in a thrilling 84-83 victory by the Pirates over No. 9 Kentucky in the Citi Hoops Classic, a statement win for a young team that continues to grow up fast during a grueling non-conference stretch.
“I need [this schedule] to get these guys battle-tested. The fact that it was Kentucky was huge but to get them in The Garden, to get them Garden experience, to get them ready for the Big East Tournament, there’s just something special about this place,” said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard. “The first time you play here as a freshman or sophomore, it can be nerve-wracking. I was very proud of how they fought and played.”
Arguably, this was a game that Seton Hall won twice. The Pirates’ other Myles, guard Myles Powell, electrified The World’s Most Famous Arena crowd by scoring 25 of his 28 points after halftime, and his acrobatic, off-balance three-pointer from the left wing with 1.5 seconds remaining in the second half gave Seton Hall a 70-67 lead. After a timeout, Kentucky’s PJ Washington launched the inbounds pass to half court, where guard Keldon Johnson turned and delivered a half-court heave that swished through the net to force an unlikely overtime session.
Arguably, this was a game that Seton Hall won twice. The Pirates’ other Myles, guard Myles Powell, electrified The World’s Most Famous Arena crowd by scoring 25 of his 28 points after halftime, and his three-pointer from the wing with 1.5 seconds remaining in the second half gave Seton Hall a 70-67 lead. After a timeout, Kentucky’s PJ Washington launched the inbounds pass to half court, where guard Keldon Johnson caught the pass, turned and delivered a half-court heave that swished through the net to force an unlikely overtime session.
Just a few seconds prior to that topsy-turvy sequence, Seton Hall’s Quincy McKnight appeared to have a clear lane to the basket after a steal with the game tied at 67 before an accidental collision with official Mike Roberts along the sideline created a turnover as McKnight lost the ball out of bounds after the incidental contact.
“It took a lot of effort, but, like coach said, we were ready,” said Powell, who made six three-pointers in the contest. “We fought, we never gave up, we stayed together and we got the job done.”
Seton Hall fought its way back from an early eight-point second half deficit on the back of its backcourt, with Powell, Cale and McKnight relentlessly attacking the basket as well as creating shots from the perimeter. Combined, the trio scored 47 of the Pirates’ 59 points after halftime.
“We played great defense on [Powell] in the first half and then in the second half, he kind of got going a little bit,” said Kentucky forward PJ Washington. “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 some tough shots.”
On the well-executed last possession for the Pirates, McKnight and Seton Hall forward Taurean Thompson both penetrated to the basket before passing the ball back out to the perimeter, with the latter finding Cale open on the left wing. After letting his defender fly by him on a pump fake, Cale repositioned his feet and knocked down the winner.
“I didn’t want to call a timeout,” Willard said about the lead-up to the final possession. “If I call a timeout, I am giving a Hall of Fame coach (John Calipari) a chance to set up his defense, and they’re good defensively and long.
“Every guy on the floor [for us] made a play at the end of the game,” Willard continued.
Washington led the Wildcats with 29 points and 13 rebounds as he was the focal point of a Kentucky offense in the second half that was dominant offensively on the inside (14-of-21 on two-point shots in the second half) but struggled all game from the perimeter, hitting just five of its 20 3-pointers. One of those threes made was the Johnson half-court heave to force OT.
“All in all, for our kids to fight in a quote ‘road game’ for us and give themselves a chance to win and go to overtime, we made strides,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “We’re a better team than we were two weeks ago. I’ve got to lot to figure out offensively.”
Kentucky, starting three freshman and a sophomore, was playing in its second high-profile game of the season, following their demolition at the hands of Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis in the season opener.
“I am not discouraged in any way,” Calipari said. “I hate losing. I’m not discouraged but, you know, you have a chance to win that game.”