Good evening, everyone. We're coming to you for the last time in the regular season from historic Walsh Gymnasium on the campus of Seton Hall University. This is the third leg of the Week of FEELS ALL THE FEELS, as it's Senior Night for three seniors who took the long and painful road before finishing up at Seton Hall.
I'm new to Seton Hall. These seniors are not old friends I've followed for two or four years, cheered for through bad times and better times, or really watched develop as players and people. If anything, I know them better as rivals- enemies, even, if you want to use a word that strong. I spent three years cheering against them. So maybe I'm not the right person to write this for Elaine and Janee and Breanna. But I'm not sure who else will, and someone should. They've been through enough to earn it.
I can't imagine how difficult a decision it was for Elaine Swaby to give up her final year of eligibility. Sidelined all year with injuries, she's still been there for her team to support them. Knees and shoulders- it's been a rough go of it for her.
When she played, under Donovan, she was a tough rebounder and a mean defender. She had grit and determination and no fear. She would have been a good fit for this year's team, and I regret that she didn't have the opportunity to show her stuff.
Breanna Jones isn't going to do anything fancy on the floor. She's not the kind of player who makes the flashy plays that get the big applause. But when someone gets open for the deep three, it's probably because she set the pick. When the perfect no-look pass wraps around for the lay-up in the lane, it's probably because she got the offensive rebound or made the defensive play that led to the steal that led to the outlet.
It's too easy to make blue collar jokes about a player who's worn Pirate blue all her career, from Hampton Roads to South Orange. But that's the kind of player Breanna is. She works on the floor, and she plays for her team. Not for herself, but for her team.
Sometimes a player wins you over not just for what she does on the floor, but by sheer force of personality and will. That's half the reason Ashley Battle remains a folk hero among New York Liberty fans. That's most of the reason why Simone Edwards is still a legend among Seattle Storm fans. That's how Janee Johnson ended up being my favorite Pirate.
This is not to say Janee doesn't have the talent. She started her career at Duke, after all. You have to have a lot of things to get into Duke. When she's on, she's an offensive catalyst and a key defensive cog. She works on the floor. There's still a sense behind her play of what could have been if not for the knee, flashes of the player that Duke recruited.
But what got me about Janee was her emotion, both on the floor and off. She gives good WTF face after questionable calls, and isn't afraid to speak her mind. It's the fact that she's teased me about my dual loyalties that makes me like her.
These seniors took the hard road to be here, and they deserved a Senior Night like this. The ceremony was beautiful, and I teared up a little bit. As you do. Everyone got at least a single rose- Ashley Wanninger and Xavier's senior manager, the seniors from the band, and the seniors from cheer and dance. The one manager and three senior players all got bouquets and a little gift, whether it was the traditional jersey and such or the mysterious little box that the manager was walking around with after the game. Coach Bozzella gave a little speech, highlighting each of them in turn. It was sweet. I got verklempt. FEELINGS.
FEELINGS end here. Game Notes resume.
I think they like us. We haz a basketball nao. And Janee offered hugs. Look, St. John's, I'm not even asking for cuddling, or for you to respect me in the morning. Just show me you care.
They have balloons. They have pirate balloons. Already best.Senior Day.ever.
At halftime, Seton Hall is up 37-18 on Xavier, led by 12 points from Alexis Brown. The pressure has been intense on defense. They want this game for their seniors.
This is going to sound mildly creepy, but there's a cheerleader eating nachos and pretzels in cheese, and I find it strangely reassuring to see a cheerleader actually eating. Dear society, there is something wrong with us.
Xavier made a big run in the second half, but Seton Hall was able to come up with little plays to save the day. I think they were bound and determined not to lose this game for their seniors, which is more than I can say for the other senior days I've seen in this spate of FEELINGS.
The Musketeers are extremely short-handed, so they relied heavily on freshman forward Leah Schafer. She came into the game early in both halves and was in and out often. She did a nice job at the basket. Christina Ohlinger needs to put a little more muscle on before she can be effective as a Big East forward.
Good gracious, Sydney Neal is fast. Quick first step, excellent closing speed- she shut down one or two Seton Hall fast breaks by being in the right place at the right time. She didn't show much offensively, but she didn't need to. Ashley Wanninger settled behind the three-point arc and did a lot of shooting out there. Aliyah Zantt killed us early with threes, both in the first half and second half. Maddison Blackwell has long arms and good defensive positioning for a freshman- she had a nice play to cut off a drive in the first half. Briana Glover didn't play as much in the first half, but turned it up in the second half. I think that might have been why Schafer was in and out so much in the first half, to help keep the starters somewhat refreshed for the second half.
Xavier relied very heavily on the three. I'm not sure how much of that is by choice and how much of it is out of necessity. I think they might need to get stronger as a team if they want to compete in the Big East next year- they have a lot of tall, skinny players (or at least skinny players who give the impression of great height because they're so skinny). But they also have a lot of very good freshmen; Schafer, Neal, Blackwell, and Kayla Davis are all freshmen, while Zantt and Glover are only sophomores. Wanninger will be a big loss for them, as is (will be? will have been?) Shatyra Hawkes, but the balance looks promising a year or two down the line.
Jasmine McCall came in very briefly, either as a desperation move because of the foul trouble Ka-Deidre Simmons had in the first half or because Coach Bozzella wanted to try and counter some of Xavier's speed. The plan was not as effective as he could have hoped. Chizoba Ekedigwe played even more briefly. Teresa Kucera was in for three-shooting purposes, which she executed well; unfortunately, she brought her usual quotient of dumb fouls to the party as well. Bra'Shey Ali came off the bench in the first half, but that's only because Breanna got the start on Senior Night. I think it either threw her off her routine, or she was out of sort, because she was looking a little behind the play by late in the game. She wasn't pursuing quite as hard as she had been. She had some thunderous blocks that got the crowd going, including one that she did a nice job of keeping inbounds. Tara Inman drew the job of guarding the ballhandler when she was in, and she stuck tight to her man most of the time. When she didn't, that was when her assignment- usually Wanninger- broke out for an open three. She hustled hard, though. I think she thinks she can move up in the rotation next year (though we didn't lose any guards, unless some of them are getting reassigned). Sidney Cook seems to have gotten a little of her mojo back- her shot was still somewhat questionable, but she hit the midrange jumper with more accuracy than I've seen from her lately, and she was rebounding with some authority. I love it when Sid rebounds. It's a beautiful, fierce, ferocious thing.
Breanna Jones started, as is correct etiquette for physically capable seniors on Senior Day/Night, and while we were all hoping she'd hit that lay-up that went in and out, she did all the little things that we expect of her. She rebounded (or tapped rebounds out), she set screens, she made defensive plays- she showed exactly who she was out there. Janee Johnson had some issues with the rim, and possibly the officiating- she got all her fouls in the second half, and disagreed with at least two of them. On the second one, she actually stayed in the screen position for a good five to ten seconds before giving up and going back on defense. (This is what happens when you turn your shoulder into the defender on a screen, Janee, you will get called for a foul.) She was setting screens and setting up her teammates well, though. She had a gorgeous pass down low to Ka-Deidre Simmons for a lay-up, the kind of pass that Didi only usually gives to other people. Tabatha Richardson-Smith played a lot of the rover in the Seton Hall defense, pressuring the ball coming up the court and then racing back. I think it wore her out a little bit. Didn't keep her from getting inside for buckets. I think I like it better when she's working the baseline or getting baskets on the fast break than when she's launching threes from the general vicinity of Hoboken. She's got the height- I'd love to see her use it more. Ka-Deidre Simmons was really feeling the court vision tonight. The passes went to the right people at the right time, she ran the offense with a steady hand- despite the shooting numbers, she had a great game. Alexis Brown, oh my Lord. I found some of the terrible things I said about you in past game notes, and I stand here to apologize, because she was feeling it tonight. Other than the little hop-step that the officials were consistently calling as a travel on her, she was pretty much doing no wrong. Threes, lay-ups, whatever that was she threw off the glass- plenty of it was going down. She worked on defense, too. She, Tabatha, and Ka-Deidre were all making life miserable for Xavier ballhandlers on the sideline.
I'm not sure what game the gentleman official was watching this evening, but a preponderance of evidence suggests that he was more interested in the action between Kansas and West Virginia. A fair number of his calls appearaed to have no relevance to the game that he was officiating. I will say that Norma Jones did a nice job on some tricky out-of-bounds calls. She had good angles. The crew had good communication through a couple of odd timeouts and stoppages. I guess we should be grateful there were no clock issues for a blessed change, though I'm sure they would have handled them with aplomb.
Seton Hall has decent shooters in their timeout contests. I'm actually kind of impressed.
This is seriously the slowest train in the history of ever, we got stopped between every station between Roosevelt and Continental, I want to GO HOME.
Always know where your balls are. Your ceremonial 1000-point basketballs, that is. Ka-Deidre's family had a collective panic attack when they had some trouble tracking it down.
After the game was over, after the coaches had gone back to the locker room, the team tracked down Brittany Webb- another of the seniors, who was recently dismissed from the team- and brought her on court for hugs and celebration. She ended up with a little box of Godiva somewhere along the line, too. D'awwww.
Perils of Senior Night: do not question a player's intelligence when her mother is sitting right next to you and assumes that you're impugning her basketball skills.
And this is how the regular season ends, walking out of Walsh Gymnasium with a basketball under my arm, singing along with [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGytDsqkQY8]"Closing Time"[/url]. (We'll ignore the fact that I spent twenty minutes wandering around the lobby of Walsh, waiting for my ride. It's more cinematic this way.)
"I know who I want to take me home..."