A Year to Remember: Seton Hall’s Historic Run Cut Short Due to COVID-19

With the emergence of COVID-19, a deadly pandemic that has wreaked havoc worldwide, the NCAA men’s basketball season has been cut short. Months and years of hard work put in by student-athletes ends with a state of mystery and “what-ifs.” A number of schools were having seasons to remember in men’s college basketball, notably the Seton Hall Pirates looking forward to the highest seed they have had in the NCAA Tournament since Coach P.J. Carlesimo’s departure to the NBA.

The Pirates were primed to have one of their most successful seasons since they last made the Final Four in 1989. The ’89 team led by guard John Morton lost in the championship game to Michigan, 80-79, on a controversial last-second call. The best result nationally that the Pirates achieved. However, many around all of college basketball believed this year’s squad could have accomplished even more.

The 2019-20 Pirates were led by senior guard Myles Powell, a native of Trenton, New Jersey. Powell came to Seton Hall after not receiving many offers due to injuries late in his high school career. Coming into Seton Hall, Powell weighed as much as 240 pounds and was practically immobile on the court, only being an asset on offense due to his precise shooting. However, the Pirates welcomed him with open arms following the much-heralded 2014 recruiting class’s run to the school’s first Big East Tournament Championship in 23 years. Since entering the gates of campus, Myles Powell has excelled into a star on and off the court.

By no means, should Seton Hall’s depth and talent go underappreciated. In addition to Powell, Seton Hall returned a lineup that featured Senior guard Quincy McKnight, Junior forwards Myles Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvili returning to the starting lineup accompanied by Powell and Senior center Romaro Gill. Off the bench, Sophomore Jared Rhoden and Junior Shavar Reynolds, Jr. did much of the team’s dirty work with Coach Kevin Willard often unable to take them off of the floor at the end of games. This season showed the player development that Seton Hall is often lauded for in the improved all around game of Jared Rhoden and the improved offense of Reynolds, Jr. to compliment the tenacious defense that earned him a scholarship in his second season. Freshman big man Tyrese Samuel also impressed with his limited playing time showing flashes of star potential, and transfer Ike Obiagu shored up the middle when Gill was on the bench.

Seton Hall was molded by their tough out-of-conference schedule and the adversity they faced due to injuries throughout the season. The Pirates battled preseason No. 1 Michigan State in their first game at the Prudential Center with Powell returning for 37 points after missing all but 2 minutes in the prior game. The Pirates had a 5-point lead late, but could not hold on falling short 76-73. Soon after, the Pirates traveled to the Bahamas for the always stacked competition of the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Pirates yet again could not hold on late against another ranked opponent falling 71-69 despite holding a 19-point lead. They suffered two losses just a week later in the Big East-Big 12 Challenge, losing Mamukelashvili in a loss at Iowa State.

The No. 16 Pirates traveled down the turnpike the next weekend to New Brunswick for the annual Garden State Hardwood Classic. In The Battle for New Jersey, Rutgers gave it to Seton Hall in their first game without Mamukelashvili that also saw the loss of another starter: Powell. Powell suffered a concussion that would leave him sidelined for a number of games including a matchup verse No. 12 Maryland. The Pirates showed their resilience and rallied around their injured teammates for a grinding, defensive victory to sweep the home-at-home with Maryland and gain traction going into conference play. The win launched the Pirates into a 10-game win streak. They were riding high and making noise.

Junior Guard Shavar Reynolds, Jr. celebrates alongside teammate Quincy McKnight

The Pirates ended their regular season with a 21-9 overall record and a 13-5 mark in the Big East. Despite two losses to end the year, hopes and ambitions did not waver. The Pirates finished as Big East Regular Season Champions tied with Creighton and Villanova. Two possible rematches against Villanova and Creighton faced the Pirates in the Big East Tournament, if things went as planned, but now we will never know the end of the story for this Seton Hall team.

Obviously, the coronavirus and its impact on the world is much more than basketball, much more than sports. But for a team such as Seton Hall, it is hard not to be disappointed with the recent news of the Big East and NCAA Tournaments being canceled. This was supposed to be the fifth straight year that the Pirates would reach the NCAA Tournament and this was the year that was going to be special.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN had Seton Hall on the No. 3 line as the 12th overall seed. Seton Hall would have also likely been playing their first and second round tournament games in Albany, proving to be a nice “home-court” advantage as fans would have been able to travel and support the Pirates. Many coaches and media members honestly believed that Seton Hall was a Final Four-caliber team and had all the tools to win a National Championship.

They had a star player and Big East Player of the Year in Powell who averaged a little over 21 points per game and was one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball. They had a great guard in Quincy McKnight who complimented Powell well by providing lockdown defense against star players while also facilitating offense and keeping turnovers to a minimum.

Mamukelashvili was playing terrific, posting near double-doubles every game coming off the wrist injury. The most unexpected asset that Seton Hall had was Gill, who won both Most Improved and Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. Gill had always been known for his 7’2” frame and shot-blocking ability, yet this season he took his play to another level and developed a post-game and offensive awareness that became key for the Pirates. Rhoden was back on the bench after gaining a lot of attention for his play in the absence of Mamukelashvili, and proved to be a rebounding and three-point shooting threat all over the floor.

Everything was going for the Seton Hall Pirates. They had South Orange buzzing as hopes of getting back to the Final Four were seriously in play, but now we can only think “What if?” of how far this team would have gone in the month of March, or even April. Despite the cancelling of the tournaments, it is safe to say that this was one of the greatest Seton Hall teams in this program’s history. They achieved historical marks and will be remembered for years to come. Oh yeah, and don’t expect to see anyone else wear the number 13 that Powell lead this historic team wearing.