BY MIKE VORKUNOV
If some wanted to call Seton Hall's loss to West Virginia a moral victory, nobody on the team wanted to associate themselves with those words after Tuesday night's 80-73 loss to Syracuse.
"Moral victories are over for us," said Jeremy Hazell after the game, where he scored 38 points on 12-31 shooting.
If the Pirates are past moral victories but not quite able to attain the substantive kind, where does that leave them? For now the only definite is that the only thing they have to show after two straight games of taking the fifth and sixth ranked teams in the country to the wire is an 0-2 record in the Big East.
"There's no consolation in losing in overtime by six, losing [Tuesday night] by seven," coach Bobby Gonzalez said after the game. "You can't say well it's great we're coming close. They're losses. We need to win one. We wanted to steal one of these."
They didn't, despite making it eminently clear that the games had more meaning to the team than just wins and losses, perception and self-substantiation were on the line.
All Seton Hall gained was proof that they are close but not quite there, and it will not get any easier from here on in.
"In this league every night is like this," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, laying out the principle that defines what it's like to play in the Big East. "It's gonna be tough every night. You have to find a way to get through it."
The Pirates haven't found a way yet and they are cognizant of it. After the losses to Temple and West Virginia, the key phrase was that the games served as learning experiences. It was the same last night.
"We're still learning, getting continuity, trying to learn how to win close games," said Herb Pope. "Obviously you would think that we would have figured it out by now but it's still early in the season that's the only positive out of tonight.
"This obviously is very frustrating. It's just that before a team gets good you have to go through your bumps and bruises."
The bumps and bruises came when the Orange erased Seton Hall's 41-29 first half lead in what Pope said seemed like less than the length of the 35 second shot clock. And it came when a 57-51 lead midway through the second half, following a ferocious slam by Pope that pumped up the crowd to near noise violation levels, was followed by a 15-0 Syracuse run.
And there was no bigger welt than the inability to make key free throws down the stretch, when they could have slowed down the Orange and their momentum, while keeping the Pirates afloat.
Now there is the question of whether the talk of each loss serving as a learning experience can become just that. So far each learning experience has only begat another lesson.
Hazell believes that it is only a matter of time.
"We played them tough but we just didn't get over the hump," he said. "We didn't get the stop, we didn't get the rebound, we didn't get the free throws. It's just us. When we do those things we'll be fine."
By now "when" has become the operative word. At this point there is no answer. After a trip to Cancun, Mexico this weekend for a matchup with Virginia Tech, Seton Hall does not play a team expected to finish below them in the conference until January 28 at South Florida.
"We didn't get it done during the trenches, we didn't come up and we didn't. I think we will, eventually," said Gonzalez." I hope we will. I may be saying that all year. We might be waiting for Godot but Godot might never show up but I think that, I like this time but it would have been nice to win some of these games to have some proof. To have some, whatever you call it, some credibility."
In Samuel Beckett's play, Godot never comes.
For more Rutgers and Seton Hall basketball coverage follow Mike Vorkunov on Twitter at @Mike_Vorkunov