Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, suspended for two games due to an NCAA investigation into allegations of transfer tampering, will return to the bench Saturday against visiting Stony Brook to coach his 12th-ranked team that is at its highest ranking in 18 years.
Willard missed an exhibition game and Tuesday’s season-opening 105-71 win against Wagner at Walsh Gymnasium at South Orange, N.J.
Seton Hall (1-0) returns four starters from last season’s team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season, tying a program record.
The top returner is senior guard Myles Powell, the Big East preseason player of the year and All-American candidate. Powell finished with 27 points, making 4 of 9 from 3-point range, in the Pirates’ win over Wagner.
Powell told reporters after the game that Seton Hall does not feel pressured to win because of the high rating and lofty expectations.
“This is the highest we’ve been ranked, but I think coach has done a great job of telling us the preseason rankings don’t mean anything,” Powell said. “Last year, we were ranked eighth (in the Big East) coming in and we changed that in the blink of an eye. All the preseason rankings and all the preseason hype can go away just like that, and I feel like coach did a great job of reminding us of that.”
Willard’s suspension reportedly involved the transfer of junior forward Taurean Thompson from Syracuse. Willard sat out the Pirates’ final exhibition contest Tuesday night against Division III Misericordia, a 112-38 victory, before missing the game against Wagner.
The Pirates’ defense forced 21 turnovers against Wagner that resulted in 31 points. They shot 62 percent from the field. Guards Quincy McKnight and Anthony Nelson combined for 13 assists and two turnovers.
Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu, a 7-foot-2 center, had 11 points while making all four of his shots with four rebounds and three blocked shots in 17 minutes.
“I thought we did some really good things, but right now we have a lot of things to work on,” Powell said. “I feel like we can get better. This is our first time getting out there.”
Stony Brook (0-1) is coming off a 74-69 overtime loss at home against Yale on Tuesday. The Seawolves are battling injuries and illness.
Tennessee-Chattanooga transfer Makale Foreman was out of practice two weeks with an undisclosed injury (though he did play 27 minutes against the Bulldogs). Miles Latimer recently returned from strep throat and Jeff Otchere missed some of Yale game with cramps.
“We looked a little out of rhythm,” Stony Brook coach Geno Ford said. “I’m the most non-excuse guy. We had a lot of guys missing practice for extended periods of time. Our practices got down to as few as nine guys.
“Guys have not been on the floor together over the last 12 days. That’s going to impact timing, and we have a lot of new faces. We’ve just got to find a way to make that one more play. The bottom line is that with 19 seconds to go, we needed a stop and didn’t get it.”
Elijah Olaniyi, a junior guard, led four Stony Brook players in double-figures with 19 points.
–Field Level Media