Those who predicted that Pepperdine’s trip to the NCAA tournament would be brief and uneventful are in no danger of losing their credentials as soothsayers.
Big East Conference champion Seton Hall routed the Waves, 71-51, Thursday in a first-round game of the NCAA West Regional.
Pepperdine, playing before 12,109 at the University of Utah’s Jon Huntsman Center, gave the Pirates a scare late in the first half and early in the second, cutting a 32-15 Seton Hall lead with 5 minutes 10 seconds left in the first half to 32-30 less than a minute into the second half.
But Seton Hall, which had harried Pepperdine unmercifully in the first half, reasserted itself in the second half, and the Pirates (23-8) ran away with the victory.
Both Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury and Seton Hall Coach P.J. Carlesimo agreed on the reason.
Said Asbury: “More than anything, I think, you’ve got to give them credit for their defense. (Seton Hall) did a great job defensively.
“We outrebounded them badly at the half and outrebounded them for the game, (but) we just couldn’t run our offense like we wanted to.”
Pepperdine (22-9) held a 23-14 rebounding advantage at halftime and a 30-24 margin for the game, but its 51 points were the fewest the team has scored this season.
Of his team’s defense, Carlesimo said: “I thought . . . we came out in the first 13 or 14 minutes of the first half and played exceptionally well defensively.”
Asbury said he thought that Seton Hall’s defense might have been the best his team had faced all year, “maybe better than (that of) Kansas.”
One reason Pepperdine couldn’t muster much offense was that the Pirates did an excellent job of denying the ball inside to Geoff Lear, who was held to 14 points, only four in the first half.
Seton Hall intercepted passes intended for Lear and Pepperdine’s other big men and forced the Waves into 23 turnovers. The Pirates did much of their scoring off turnovers.
Another important reason for Pepperdine’s lack of offense was that it was without the West Coast Conference’s player of the year, off-guard Doug Christie.
Christie was lost for the season when he tore cartilage in his right knee in the first game of the conference tournament two weeks ago.
Pepperdine missed not only Christie’s 19.1-point scoring average but also his team-high 4.8 assists, his defense, rebounding and, particularly, his ability to penetrate and pass.
Seton Hall had few defensive breakdowns against Christie’s teammates, except for not being able to halt Pepperdine’s 15-0 run that began late in the first half and carried over into the second.
Pirate guard Terry Dehere, who scored a game-high 26 points--including four three-point baskets--said he didn’t think he and his teammates had relaxed during Pepperdine’s surge.
“We weren’t able to breathe a great deal because of the altitude,” Dehere said. “I felt in the second half we did a pretty good job really getting after them and playing great defense on the perimeter.”
Seton Hall regained its momentum for good after Anthony Avent had picked up his fourth foul with Seton Hall leading, 39-32, with 14:21 to play.
Carlesimo was assessed a technical foul after questioning the call on Avent, and Rick Welch made both free throws for Pepperdine.
But instead of giving the Waves a lift, the incident seemed to inspire Seton Hall. In the next five minutes, the Pirates ran to a 56-39 lead that put the game out of reach.
Lear left the game with 11:44 remaining after committing his fourth foul, and when he returned about three minutes later it was too late to do Pepperdine any good.
How badly hurt were the Waves without Christie?
“That’s a good question,” Asbury answered. “I don’t know.
“I mean, how do you know? Doug is a great athlete and a very, very multidimensional player.
“He could have made a difference. But 20 points--I don’t know.”
Pepperdine’s inconsistent play in the first half probably made some difference.
“We were a little bit shaky in the first 10 minutes, when we played like we were glad to be here,” Asbury said. “In the second 10 minutes of the first half, we played like we wanted to win.”
Unfortunately for Pepperdine, Seton Hall played to win for most of the game.