Tyrese Samuel is the only four-year commit to Seton Hall’s basketball program.

On Thursday, the basketball gods rewarded his loyalty.

The 6-foot-10 senior sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Pirates to a 70-69 victory over Memphis in the quarterfinals of the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando, Hall’s first landmark victory under head coach Shaheen Holloway.

Samuel finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds and made four crucial free throws as the Pirates improved to 4-1 before Friday’s semifinal against Oklahoma (8 p.m., ESPN 2).

Postman said the play was intended as a three-pointer for graduate guard Jameer Harris. Samuel looked his way as he took cues from Richmond’s Kadara, but when Harris was blanketed, the big lad knew the result was in his hands. A career .303 shooter from beyond the arc, he began his prayer from about 25 feet, right away, with his hand in his face.

After that came true, the Pirates bench emptied and piled on the clock player.

“I knew it was going to be a bankable shot (upon release), but when I was shooting it, I was like, ‘This could really hit,'” Samuel said. “It was a blur and when it went in I was standing there not knowing how to react. It was surreal.”


1. Samuel understands this

In the preseason, Samuel said yes tired of hearing about his potential. This word has been thrown around since the first year. Yes, he got lucky with the winner. But he earned the opportunity by making four straight free throws over the stretch — he’s a career .580 shooter from the line, though .842 this season — and hitting the boards hard. His four offensive rebounds marked a game high.

“Happy for Tyrese,” Holloway said in his postgame radio interview. “I have to make Rez score low. He hit the basketball, but I have to give it to him. Made some big free throws, hit a big three, I hope that helps his confidence, man.”

Worth noting: Samuel is doing all of this as the only true big man in the Pirates’ rotation. He carries a heavy load.

“I’m trying to win the day by playing every day like I have a one-day contract,” he said. “I want to show people who I really am, all the hard work I’ve put into working on my free throws so I can make them all the time.”

Personally, on a visceral level, it’s felt food for Samuel – one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He earned this moment.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I feel that I have put in a lot of work over the last four years. I stayed true to this program. I feel like I’ve helped this program a lot. You know the whole four years that I’ve been here (to have this moment) has been the perfect time.”

2. The twist is still in focus

Holloway is still tinkering with the rotation. He’s still figuring out how to use talented but inconsistent playmaker Kadari Richmond, how to protect Samuel from foul trouble, how many guys can handle the ball and work on offense, what combinations work best. There will be gusts. This falls into the entry-level category.

“We’re super talented,” Samuel said. “It’s going to be somebody different every game. I’m not going to say it’s going to be me every game. We have enough talent for everyone to share. It will make us difficult to defend.”

Unlike Memphis, which relied on star guard Kendrick Davis (22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), Seton Hall had that balance, which was facilitated by Holloway’s even distribution of minutes. Junior forward Dre Davis led the Pirates with 13 points off the bench and made all five free throws. Postgrad forward KC Ndefo (8 points, 4 boards, 2 blocks, 2 steals) picked up five fouls, three of which led to a foul by talented Memphis forward DeAndre Williams. Junior forward Trey Jackson had 10 points and kept the Pirates in hitting range with some key possessions in the second half.

3. Winners bar

It cannot be overstated how important this was from a resume perspective. Memphis (2-2) is ranked No. 29 by analytics site Kenpom.com and will have plenty of wins in the American Athletic Conference this season. Oklahoma is ranked No. 39 by Kenpom, another quality opponent. Nebraska, which was waiting for a Seton Hall-Memphis underdog, is a bad team destined for the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

“It was super big,” Samuel said. “We lost to Iowa, so winning that game means a lot to us. It’s another win on our resume.”

The Sooners are 4-1 with no notable wins or losses against a pretty good Sam Houston team. They have a standout point guard in Grant Sherfield (15.4 ppg, 5.4 ppg) and 6-foot-10 point guard Tanner Groves (11.4 ppg, 9.0 ppg). Groves is 240 pounds, so it will be interesting to see if Holloway calls Samuels (the only Pirate over 215, with Alexis Etna on the sidelines) for more than the 22 minutes he logged against Memphis.

Had 16 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes in Friday’s 69-56 win over Nebraska Groves, sky-high numbers for a player his size. Sherfield played 36 minutes, four more than any Pirate played against Memphis.

The last time these programs met was during the holiday week in 2013. Oklahoma rallied from seven points down in the final minute to stun the Hall 86-85 at Barclays Center.


Holloway: “I am very happy and very blessed. This team has been through a lot in the last seven months. This is just the beginning.”

Samuel in the locker room after the game: “It was a great energy. Everyone jumped. Coach Sha said, “Get ready for tomorrow.”

Samuel on the fan turnout at Seton Hall in Orlando: “Very loud. Great turnout. We have many loyal fans and alumni. It was a great atmosphere.”

Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and college basketball since 2003. He is a top 25 pick by the Associated Press. Contact him at jcarino@gannettnj.com.

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