Seton Hall realized about three weeks ago it could do more with an already-potent help-out defense than just disrupt opponents' passes. It could intercept them.
That became a point of emphasis for Coach P.J. Carlesimo Thursday in the opener of the NCAA subregional at University of Utah. Seton Hall combined 17 steals and a field-goal defense that held Pepperdine to 37.5 percent with Terry Dehere's 26 points to overcome the loss of foul-troubled Anthony Avent and eliminate Pepperdine 71-51.That broke a 16-game win streak by West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champion Pepperdine, which was without league MVP Doug Christie, a 6-foot-6 guard who tore knee cartilage during the WCC tournament last week. Pepperdine's season ended at 22-10.
Seton Hall moved to 24-8 and has won 10 of its last 11.
"We just couldn't run our offense like we wanted to," said Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury.
"They did a good job with their help-side defense," said Wave forward Dana Jones (10 points, nine rebounds). "We tried to take the ball down there to (Geoff) Lear (14 points) and (Rex) Manu (three), and we didn't pick up the help-side defense as good as we should have. It definitely hurt us."
Seton Hall made sure of it. "We used to just say get the deflection. Now we say grab with two hands," Carlesimo says. "All of a sudden, we've gotten a lot more steals with our help-defense."
That's how a 6-8 freshman forward from Lithuania got five steals, including three in one minute early in the second half as the Hall sprinted away. The Waves had closed to within two a minute earlier. With long arms and long legs, Arturas Karnishovas has made deflections all season, said Carlesimo. Thursday, his steals led to 11 points.
"Arturas to me was the best player on the floor because of the way he played defense the second half. We took it over with defense," said Carlesimo.
Karnishovas made a steal five minutes into the game that led to Avent's first basket, a tip-in of his own miss, and that gave Seton Hall a 15-2 lead. Dehere had already scored eight with two three-pointers and a drive.
Dehere, a 6-4 sophomore all-Big East Conference selection, took advantage of Pepperdine's 5-9, 6-0 guardline that was without Christie and shot over them. "That's not the size backcourt I'm used to playing in the Big East," said Dehere, envisioning 6-8 foes.
Karnishovas ran Seton Hall's first-half lead to 17 points, 32-15, with an assist on an Avent score and his second three-pointer with 5:11 left. But Seton Hall didn't score again in the half as the Waves hit the beach on a run that got them within seven at the half and to 32-30 by 19:01 of the second half.
"We were shaky and nervous, and good shots didn't drop," said Asbury. "The second 10 minutes, we played like we could win."
It didn't last.
"We worked real hard to catch up," said Jones, "and we felt like we could pass them, but we made some mistakes and the lead got bigger and bigger."
At 39-32 Avent picked up his second foul in less than a minute and fourth overall. Lear missed both free throws, and Carlesimo received a technical for what he'd said before the free throws. Rick Welch made one tech toss, but that signalled the Pirates to turn it all the way back on - without Avent.
To Carlesimo, that was the positive. "I was very concerned, but the kids played right through it," he said, noting Seton Hall's best combination was two freshmen, two sophs and a junior, especially since Big East tourney MVP Oliver Taylor was having an off-day.