There have been times when Seton Hall vs. St. John’s on the basketball court was a marquee event. In the 1950s, both were national-title contenders. In the late 1980s through early 1990s, during P.J. Carlesimo’s heyday, the date was circled on every hoop-head’s calendar. Even as recently as the past five years, when Myles Powell and Shamorie Ponds squared off as both squads bordered on the Associated Press Top 25, there was buzz aplenty.
It’s not that no one cares about Saturday’s matchup, which is trending toward a lower-bowl sellout (10,500) at Prudential Center (noon tip, Fox Sports 1). Plenty of eyeballs will be watching. The difference this time: The mood is closer to desperation than aspiration as the sun sets on 2022.
Seton Hall (7-7 overall, 0-3 Big East) is trying to avoid the program’s first 0-4 start in league play since 2009-10 as first-year head coach Shaheen Holloway tries to get his bearings with a mash-up roster of Kevin Willard holdovers, transfers and freshmen. St. John’s (11-3, 1-2), which is loaded with individual talent, needs a decent win to boost sagging metrics as the pressure ramps up on fourth-year skipper Mike Anderson.
It’s still too early to go all-in on the NET, which is a major metric used to select the NCAA Tournament and NIT fields, but Seton Hall is ranked 93rd and St. John’s, despite the 11-3 record, is 96th. The Red Storm possess just one resume-building victory (a Quad 2) and are 8-0 against Quad 4, the cream puffs.
It’s fair to say the loser of this game will be behind the eight-ball when it comes to the postseason. In an interview Friday, Holloway acknowledged the meaning of the metro-area rivalry – he’s a New Yorker who played in it for the Hall, after all – but his focus is squarely on the task at hand.
“I’m going into it as a game we have to win to get back on track,” Holloway said. “We’re at home, we’ve got to take care of home, doesn’t matter who we’re playing. When you’re playing a team that’s local, I think for the players it means something.”
Home has meant something in this series. St. John’s is 1-10 against Seton Hall all-time at Prudential Center, including 0-2 on New Year’s Eve. The lone win came by one point amid an empty building in a 2014 snowstorm. Prior to the Rock’s opening, the Johnnies dropped their last five contests vs. the Pirates at the Meadowlands.
All told, since 1998 – going on 25 years now – St. John’s is 2-15 at Seton Hall.
“Hopefully we have a good crowd and guys feed off that,” Holloway said. “That part of it helps, having a good home crowd, but we’ve got to give the crowd something to be excited about. That part is on us.”
The biggest thing holding the Hall back is shooting. The backcourt’s two most accomplished 3-point shooters – postgrad Jamir Harris and senior Al Dawes – have been slumping. What is Holloway counseling them, as a coach and a former guard who went through his ups and downs from the outside?
“Just keep working on your game, stay in the lab, stay positive,” he said. “I’m positive with them. I still believe in them. They’re going to need to see a few shots go in. Once a few shots go in – they don’t have to be threes, they can be free throws or layups – you’ve got to find other ways to score and get your confidence going, and go from there.”
The other part of the Pirates’ shooting woes is the free-throw line.
“We do a lot of different things–we do pressure free throws, free throws before practice, free throws after practice,” Holloway said. “It’s a mindset. You come to the line and settle down and take a deep breath and go through your routines. Right now, it’s more a mindset than anything else. They get a lot of reps.”
In the big picture Holloway is counseling patience – as he has since the fall. Unlike St. John’s, Seton Hall is in the infant stages of a new regime.
“I knew it was going to be ups and downs,” Holloway said. “I see good signs, and things we want to improve on. They’ve got to keep working and keep away from all the noise. Be steady, and it’s going to happen.
“All we can do is keep working. The only thing I know is hard work. Things won’t happen overnight.”
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at [email protected].