Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell nearly always has the hot shooting hand, and last night was no exception as he scored 10 of the Pirates' first 12 points at Carnesecca Arena, which nearly was full for the Big East neighborhood turf battle. But midway through the first half, Hazell mysteriously developed a bloody shooting hand and left the game, never to return.
Riding a two-game winning streak that included a victory Sunday at Notre Dame, which was without injured Big East player of the year Luke Harangody, St. John's couldn't have asked for a bigger break. Hazell torched the Red Storm for 53 points in two meetings last season.
But the Red Storm (14-11, 4-9 Big East) failed to take advantage, suffering a 59-50 loss to the Pirates (15-9, 6-7), who still have a chance to get back into contention for an NCAA bid. Jeff Robinson picked up the slack for Hazell, scoring 16 points, shooting 7-for-11, and Robert Mitchell added 15.
Shooting was a problem for St. John's, which converted only 32.8 percent from the field against the Pirates' 2-3 zone, including just 3 of 15 from three-point range. Leading scorer D.J. Kennedy was held to two points on 1-for-10 shooting, and Anthony Mason Jr. had just six, shooting 1-for-7. Sean Evans led the Storm with 14 points.
Kennedy blamed himself for the loss, calling it "the worst game of my life.'' Embattled Red Storm coach Norm Roberts was equally emotional after seeing his record in Big East games at Carnesecca drop to 8-7.
"These guys try so hard,'' Roberts said. "They almost want it too bad. Tonight, they got tight and just didn't make it happen . . . It's life.''
Asked about his team's morale, Roberts channeled former Jets coach Herman Edwards, emoting strongly as he said, "Be a man! Just be a man! Nobody died! It's basketball. We move on.''
Seton Hall had a 16-14 lead when Hazell exited with 8:21 left in the half after the referees stopped the game to see who was dripping blood. Hazell told a Pirates trainer he had "no idea at all'' how he was injured. But it took eight stitches to close a deep gash in the webbing between the middle and ring fingers of his shooting hand.
The Pirates took control with a 14-5 second-half run for a 49-35 lead. Robinson hit two threes and had 10 points in that span. St. John's missed its first 11 three-point attempts before Dwight Hardy hit two in a row and Paris Horne added a third to pull within 55-48 with 50 seconds left.
The win was the third straight for Seton Hall. "We played inspired tonight without Jeremy, but we can't do it for five more games,'' said coach Bobby Gonzalez. "I'm going to go to church and pray a little bit ''