NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard didn’t hesitate to take out most of his starters after Marquette rallied from a seven-point deficit to tie the game midway through the second half.
The Pirates needed needed a jump start and Anthony Nelson, Shavar Reynolds, Tyrese Samuel and Ike Obiagu got the call. They not only provided the energy, they led Seton Hall to a sixth straight win.
Myles Powell scored 23 points and the Pirates’ bench provided a game-breaking 11-point run in posting a 69-55 decision on Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center.
The win gave Seton Hall (12-4) only its second 4-0 start in the Big East Conference, joining 1992-93 team that won both the regular season and league tournament titles.
Willard said Nelson, Reynolds, Samuel and Obiagu practice together almost every day.
“I do have confidence in the fact they are familiar with each other,” said Williard, who is looking to take the Pirates to a fifth straight NCAA Tournament. “One thing about why I mass sub is that these guys play with each other and have a good feel. I wouldn’t put them in there if I didn’t think they could do something good.”
Nelson had two baskets and an assist in the crucial run that turned a 45-all game into an 11-point lead midway through the second half.
“Coach put us in the game and said we needed some energy,” said Nelson, who finished with six points and two assists in less than 12 minutes of action. “That was our job, go in there and be the energy guys and make some plays. Coach called our name. It was time to step up.”
Markus Howard, who came into the game leading the nation with a 26.8 points scoring average, finished with 27 for Marquette. The Golden Eagles (11-5, 2-2) had no other players in double figures in losing consecutive games for the first time this season.
“Our execution was good in the first half, but our defense wasn’t good in the second half,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “In the Big East you have to put together a 40-minute game. We have to figure out ways to put a complete game together.”
The Pirates won all the team battles in the game that featured two of the nation’s top scorers. They outscored Marquette 32-10 in the paint, had a 25-7 advantage in bench points and and a 21-7 edge in points off turnovers in the game.
The key was the bench play. After Sacar Anim hit two free throws to tie the game at 45, Nelson hit a go-ahead shot in the lane. Reynolds stretched the lead to five with a 3-pointer, Nelson converted a drive and fed Obiagu for a dunk. Samuel finished the run with a driving dunk.
Marquette never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
“We’re battling each other every day in practice so we are always in those types of league-type situations,” Powell said. “Everybody wants to win so we battle each other. We’re battle-tested and that’s why we are winning these close games.”
Center Romaro Gill added 10 points and six rebounds for Seton Hall, which limited Marquette to 5-of-26 shooting in the second half, including 3 of 17 from long range.
Seton Hall rallied from an 11-point deficit and took a 40-37 halftime lead as Powell hit a 3-pointer and a layup in the final 45 seconds.
Howard and Powell stole the show in the first half. Howard scored 11 points in the opening six-plus minutes and finished with 18 points. Powell, who did not score his first basket in the opening nine minutes, finished with 16 points in the half.
Marquette: Returns home to face Xavier on Wednesday.
Seton Hall: At No. 6 Butler on Wednesday.
The win might get the streaking Pirates back into the Top 25. They started the season ranked No. 12 and fell out in mid-December after losing to Rutgers.
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