- Kieran Darcy, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEWARK, N.J. -- Ten days ago, Seton Hall suffered a close-fought five-point loss to Syracuse, a top-25 team, here at The Rock. But the Pirates were without leading scorer Jeremy Hazell.
Tuesday night, Seton Hall had Hazell in the lineup, but the result was the same. The Pirates fell by a nickel, this time to No. 23 Georgetown.
This defeat was even more gut-wrenching than the previous loss. Against Syracuse, Seton Hall got within only two late in the second half. Against Georgetown, the Pirates surged from a seven-point halftime deficit to a six-point lead with 3:06 remaining, but couldn't close out the Hoyas.
Hazell -- playing in just his third game after missing almost two months with a broken left wrist -- had 15 points, but shot just 5-for-16 from the floor. And with the game tied at 73, with a little more than a minute remaining, Hazell missed a jumper that would have given the Pirates the lead.
"Eventually, I'll start hitting more," Hazell said. "But right now, I'm not hitting the shots that I normally make, so that's just on me."
The 6-foot-5 senior -- who averaged more than 20 points per game the past two seasons, and was named first-team All-Big East this preseason -- was brilliant in his first game back, scoring 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting in a win over DePaul on Wednesday. But he was just 3-for-13 for nine points in a 21-point loss to Pitt on Saturday, and not much better against Georgetown.
"I knew when he scored  against DePaul, I knew it was the worst thing in the world to happen," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "He's gonna struggle a little bit until he kinda gets back in shape, back in basketball form.
"He didn't touch a basketball for two and a half months, so for him to come back and people expect him to be Superman, it's a little comic book-ish."
On the bright side for Seton Hall (8-11, 2-5 in the Big East), Hazell's supporting cast was excellent on Tuesday night. Senior forward Jeff Robinson had 21 points and seven rebounds, junior forward Herb Pope had 16 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 2:11 to go (which really hurt down the stretch), and junior guard Jordan Theodore had 17 points, six assists and zero turnovers.
Hazell even went as far as to say the Pirates would have won if he had been 100 percent. "Definitely," Hazell said. "Georgetown's a tough team, but today I think my teammates played a helluva game."
When asked how he felt after the game, Hazell estimated that he was at about 85 percent right now. "My wrist is not bothering me," Hazell said. "I have padded protection on it, so it feels good. It's just a little awkward when I'm dribbling the ball, but other than that I feel great."
"I don't think he's too far off, because he's been working hard," Willard said. "I really think in two weeks he'll be back shooting 50 percent."
The question is, where will Seton Hall be in two weeks? The Pirates have now lost six of their past eight games, with the wins coming against Big East bottom-feeders South Florida and DePaul. The Pirates have a critical game against in-state rival Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) on Saturday afternoon back here at The Rock, before a rematch with Syracuse at the Carrier Dome next Tuesday.
It is imperative for Seton Hall to beat Rutgers, and Providence (0-6 in the Big East) at home on Jan. 30, if it still harbors any hope of participating in March Madness.
The Pirates' coach remained steadfastly optimistic after the game, citing Hazell and his predicted rapid recovery as the reason.
"That's why, as disappointed as I am with the loss, I can see this team really getting good pretty soon," Willard said. "I don't think we're too far off."
Seton Hall's most recent defeat was even more gut-wrenching than the last.