NEW YORK — Reaching 2,000 career points was not enough for Myles Powell.
The Seton Hall basketball star had to will his team to victory at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
In a performance that scintillated the 10,428 fans who rocked Madison Square Garden and long will be remembered by all who bore witness, the senior All-American scored 29 points to rally the Pirates past St. John’s 82-79 Saturday.
“This is what I came back my senior year for, the great teammates I have and the great coaching staff I have," Powell said. “I’m blessed to be in this situation, thankful for everything that’s come my way, and we’re going to continue to keep playing Seton Hall basketball and keep getting wins, because that’s all that matters at this point.”
The wins are piling high. This was the eighth straight for Seton Hall (14-4 overall, 6-0 Big East), which roared back from 13 down at the half to remain atop the Big East standings. They are a remarkable 4-0 on the road in conference play.
“Everybody is playing their role right now and that’s what’s making us so good," said guard Quincy McKnight said, who chipped in 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists. "Nobody is forcing the issue. Everybody is just doing what they do.”
It took a great deal of maturity to rebound from the roundhouse St. John’s (12-7, 1-5) landed in the first half. The Johnnies' full-court pressure forced 15 turnovers over the first 20 minutes, giving them a 43-30 lead at the break.
"I thought the biggest thing we adjusted — I thought we were either going to lose by 30 or come back and win the game — we were going to press them back," Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "I think it got them on their heels a little bit, it gave us a chance to turn them over and get some easy buckets, and I thought that just loosened us up a ton.”
The Pirates were a new team when play resumed. Powell scored his 2,000th point on a layup after Jared Rhoden forced a turnover and passed it ahead. It was back-and-forth from there, until Powell gave the Hall the lead for good with 1:38 left, muscling in a well-defended drive, getting fouled and sinking the ensuing free throw.
"I've seen this guy since his freshman year in the NCAA Tournament," said St. John's coach Mike Anderson, whose then-Arkansas squad beat the Hall in Greenville, South Carolina. "He's gotten better and he's stepped up when his team needed him to."
Powell shot 11 of 20 from the field and also grabbed six rebounds.
"You’re looking at a pro," Willard said, "and I can’t say it enough, the best player in college basketball."
Powell became the fifth Pirate to reach the rarefied 2,000-point milestone, joining Terry Dehere, Nick Werkman, Jeremy Hazell and Greg Tynes. Afterward, as he walked off the court with the game ball as a souvenir, a St. John's basketball staffer attempted to take it from him.
"I just wanted my 2,000-point ball, that’s all it was," Powell said. “He asked for it back and I asked if I could have it and he said yes, so that’s the end of that.”
As usual, the best Seton Hall player since Terry Dehere — and one of the very best ever to wear the uniform — had the last word.
“At the of the day," he said, "all that mattered was the W."
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Some video clips from Seton Hall's first full practice of the 2019-20 season. Asbury Park Press
1. Bad form by St. John’s
The attempt to take the game ball from Powell was a display of poor sportsmanship. It wasn't the only one. There was no acknowledgement of Powell’s 2,000th point on the public address. Seton Hall had asked St. John’s in advance if they would acknowledge it.
The last time a Hall player reached 2,000, Jeremy Hazell did it at Rutgers in 2011. That also went unacknowledged, but Rutgers claimed Seton Hall officials never asked them to do so.
It doesn’t take much to spit out one sentence over the public address, either in real time or during the next media timeout.
There will be a ceremony prior to Wednesday’s home game vs. Providence.
2. Romaro Gill's rise continues
The vastly improved senior continues to stake his claim as the Big East’s best center, even as St. John’s did a better job that most opponents of clogging the pick-and-roll he’s executed so well in recent weeks.
The 7-footer finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds (seven offensive) and six blocks.
"He's a presence down there," Anderson said.
It helps that backup center Ike Obiagu also is 7-foot-2, so Willard can rest Gill if fouls accrue.
"I don’t think our big guys get enough credit," Willard said. "I always love looking at the opposing big guys when I send Ike in, because they’re like, ‘Okay, this guy (Gill) is out, now I gotta deal with that guy (Obiagu)?’ And then you throw Ro back in, and I think they’ve changed the way we could play."
3. Kevin Willard, take a bow
St. John's brought its A-plus game, had the Hall on the ropes, and Willard pushed all the right buttons to trigger the comeback. His bold adjustment to match ball pressure with ball pressure was crucial, as was a fiery halftime speech.
"Coach’s yelling at halftime, it always works," McKnight said. "Usually he hits us in the first half during a timeout, but we got it at halftime today."
Perhaps Willard's most underrated contribution was convincing the officiating crew to upgrade two Myles Cale jumpers from 2 points to 3. The refs may have gotten confused with the various arcs on the Garden's floor (college and pro), but upon review they gave the Hall two additional points. Those loomed large late.
Twice during the postgame press conference, Powell jumped in out of turn to express praise for Willard and his assistants. The coach returned the compliment when asked what it means for Powell to score 2,000 points on his watch.
"It means I've got a lot of wins," he deadpanned.
Willard now has the program at a level unseen since P.J. Carlesimo's 1992-93 squad earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With nine quadrant one and two victories, tied for the most of any team in the country, these Pirates are tracking for a similar seed.
4. Mamu getting closer
All signs point toward an imminent return for junior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, who has been sidelined since Dec. 8 with a broken bone in his right, non-shooting wrist.
On Friday, Mamu posted a video of himself dunking on social media. Before Saturday’s game he warmed up with the team. After Saturday's game, Willard said a return to action for the Jan. 29 home game against DePaul is "realistic."
Mamukelashvili (10.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) will bring a lot to the table, including better rebounding and a stronger matchup against perimeter, positionless teams like Creighton and Villanova. And at 6-foot-11, with good hands and excellent passing skills, he will help the Pirates break the kind of full-court pressure they struggled with Saturday.
5. Lots of blue at MSG
Seton Hall fans comprised at least a third of the crowd, their largest showing here for this game in recent memory. They filled nearly five sections of the upper bowl (the 300 level) and serenaded the team with several loud “Let’s Go Pirates” chants.
As Powell hit shot after shot down the stretch, they nearly blew the Garden's lid off. That did not go unnoticed by the players.
“When we come into this building, this is a special place for us," Powell said. "We feel like this is our second home.”
Where does Myles Powell stand on Seton Hall’s all-time scoring list?
1. Terry Dehere 2,494
2. Nick Werkman 2,273
3. Jeremy Hazell 2,146
4. Greg Tynes 2,059
5. Myles Powell 2,022
6. Dan Callandrillo 1,985
7. Andre McCloud 1,976
8. Mark Bryant 1,906
9. Andre Barrett 1,861
10. Khadeen Carrington 1,846
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@example.com.