PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Myles Powell sensed 13th-ranked Seton Hall was still reeling after blowing a big lead and losing their Battle 4 Atlantis opener the night before.
“I feel like we were still stuck on the loss,” Powell said.
Powell scored 18 points to help the Pirates beat Southern Miss 81-56 Thursday night in a losers’ bracket game that was as much about Seton Hall’s ability to move forward after a huge disappointment and find the edge that coach Kevin Willard thought was missing.
“I wasn’t happy with our attitude going into the game,” Willard said. “I wanted us to bounce back a little bit quicker. ... I told the team that (at halftime), and I thought they did a good job in the second half of picking up their energy a little bit.”
It was roughly 24 hours earlier that Seton Hall (5-2) was up 19 in the second half on No. 11 Oregon and poised to move into the winners’ bracket, only to squander that lead and lose on a late basket.
This time, facing a team picked to finish last in Conference USA, Seton Hall found itself in a closer-than-expected game before halftime. And in the second half, they maintained a double-digit lead but didn’t put together a big push to blow the game open until the final minutes.
“With all the preseason hype that we’ve gotten, we’ve lost a little bit of what made us really tough to play against,” he said. “That attitude that we’re always going to be hunting, we’re not going to sit back and just kind of show up. ... We’ve just got to develop that attitude just a little bit more, even in games.”
Powell said that much was clear at halftime with Seton Hall leading 40-31 and Willard quickly breaking off his normal halftime film routine.
“He started the first 5 seconds and then his blood was just rushing for how bad we played,” Powell said.
Gabe Watson had 18 points for the Golden Eagles (2-5), who kept battling much of the night before going cold down the stretch as the Pirates finally blew the game open.
“At times we were overwhelmed out there with size and so forth,” first-year coach Jay Ladner said. “They’ve got an outstanding team and are very well-coached. But I was proud of our team’s effort. I don’t think the final score was indicative of how hard fought and tough game it was.”
Seton Hall: The Pirates were playing the final of four Thanksgiving Day-games at the Atlantis resort. They led by between 12 and 16 points for much of the second half, but they didn’t look much like the team that came roaring out of halftime to build the big lead on Oregon, either. Powell scored 32 points with seven 3-pointers in that game, but had a tougher shooting night this time around (5 of 15 from the field, 2 of 9 from behind the arc).
Southern Miss: Ladner has talked since arriving in the Bahamas about this being a big step up in competition for a team picked to finish last in Conference USA, particularly when it comes to showing his team what top-tier programs look like up close. The first game didn’t go well — a 94-69 loss to No. 8 Gonzaga — but his team did a better job of tussling with a more talented opponent.
Seton Hall lost starting point guard Quincy McKnight to cramping in his right leg with 12:51 left. The senior jumped to attempt a pass deflection and fell over in pain without making contact with any other player.
McKnight was carried to the bench before making his way back to the locker-room area. He did not return to the bench.
Seton Hall: The Pirates will face Iowa State in Friday’s fifth-place game. Oddly enough, the teams were already were set to play at Iowa State on Dec. 8, so it will be the first of two consecutive games with the Cyclones.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles will face Alabama in Friday’s seventh-place game.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap