The Seton Hall Pirates' magical season came to a screeching halt Thursday, as the 11th-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs knocked off the sixth-seeded Pirates, 68-52, in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament in Denver.
Domantas Sabonis led the Zags with 21 points and 16 rebounds to push Gonzaga into the second round, where it will meet the Utah Runnin' Utes on Saturday. Kyle Wiltjer contributed a further 13 points for the Bulldogs.
Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports commented on Gonzaga's ability to physically impose its will on the Pirates:
Gotta give it to Gonzaga in this one. I struggled to see how they would match up with Seton Hall athletically, and they’re dominating.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) March 18, 2016
Fran Fraschilla of ESPN appreciated Sabonis' back-to-the-basket play, which was much like his Hall of Fame father's:
Sabonis is a freaking Timex.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) March 18, 2016
Bobby Marks of the Vertical pointed out that Seton Hall was going to be at a disadvantage because of the Big East's lack of formidable big men:
Big East does not have any big that is skilled like Sabonis. Factor in altitude and Seton Hall is on the ropes.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 18, 2016
After the Pirates won their first Big East championship in 23 years, point guard Isaiah Whitehead shot 4-of-24 from the floor and scored 10 points. He also set an NCAA tournament record by going 0-of-10 from three-point range, per the broadcast.
Vecenie also chimed in on Whitehead's performance, which may concern the NBA scouting world:
So yeah…this is the Isaiah Whitehead that has scouts concerned, obviously.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) March 18, 2016
Gonzaga took a 35-25 lead into halftime and looked to be in control on both ends of the floor. The Bulldogs made it a priority to force Whitehead to beat them from the outside. Senior guard Derrick Gordon was the only other Seton Hall player to take double-digit shot attempts.
Seton Hall cut the deficit to 53-45 with eight minutes, nine seconds remaining, but the game turned back in Gonzaga's favor after Pirates head coach Kevin Willard picked up a technical foul for arguing with an official.
Dan Wolken of USA Today echoed fans' reactions after Willard committed the poorly timed tech:
Not a good time for a tech, Willard.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 18, 2016
Gonzaga closed the game on a 15-7 run following the mistake.
Seton Hall had plenty of momentum coming into the tournament, but Whitehead shot the Pirates out of Thursday's contest. One game does not define a player's pro stock, and Whitehead has the talent to be effective in the NBA. There was a lot of potential for this Seton Hall team to make a run, but the offseason has come quicker than the team would have liked.
The Bulldogs did not shy away from the game plan that got them to where they are: playing physically in the post and relying on their big men. However, Sabonis will have his hands full Saturday against Utah big man Jakob Poeltl as his team tries to advance to the Sweet 16.
Gonzaga went 2-5 against teams with a top-50 RPI, per CBS Sports. Not much was expected when the Bulldogs reached the tournament once again, but head coach Mark Few was proud of his team after the program's eighth straight first-round win in March Madness.
"This group of guys, as well as the guys before them, have just done an unbelievable job of making streaks that just seemed impossible when you look back at them," Few said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
Frustrations boiled over when Willard received his technical, but he made sure to credit Gonzaga on another impressive moment in March.
"They're a good basketball team," Willard said, per the same source. "You know, a really good basketball team."
Gonzaga went into the game trying to make Whitehead try to win it by himself while closing any space he got toward the rim.
"I think the common theme was just making it tough [on him]," Wiltjer said, per the AP.
And the reason Whitehead gave for taking 24 shots was he felt good taking them.
"I've faced some of the toughest defensive groups in the country, playing in the Big East," Whitehead said, per the AP. "This is probably my worst shooting performance, but I think it was just more missing shots. I had some good looks, just was an off night."
Check out Bleacher Report's live updating bracket to track your picks along the road to the Final Four.