NEWARK — Myles Powell wasn’t even supposed to play against Michigan State.
Even as fans were filing into the Prudential Center, he didn’t know if he would be able to. After the Seton Hall guard suffered an ankle injury in the Pirates’ win over Stony Brook last weekend, his coach, Kevin Willard, told reporters that he would be out indefinitely and that it could be “a prolonged absence.”
Willard told Powell to go out for warmups before the game, but to stand on the sideline and watch. When the Pirates went back into the locker room about a half hour before tip-off, he told his coach he was ready to go.
“We looked at each other and I just said ‘Coach, I got you. I’m ready,’” he said. “You dream about games like this. It’s not something you pass up on.”
Not only did Powell play, he was the best player on the court and, considering the circumstances, gave the best individual performance of the college basketball season so far.
His numbers: 34 minutes, 37 points, six rebounds, and six threes in a 76-73 loss to the third-ranked Spartans.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has coached four first-team All-Americans, coached against dozens more, won a national championship, and been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s seen his share of great players, but watching Powell’s clinic on a bad ankle made a lasting impression.
“Myles is one of the great players I’ve ever seen in college basketball,” Izzo said after the game.
Yes, it came in a loss, but unless you’re a Seton Hall fan, the result of the game was secondary to the show that Powell put on. Consider his game on Thursday to be the first line on his application for national player of the year.
“He’s the best player in the country, it’s not even close, for what he does,” Willard said.
This wasn’t exactly Powell’s coming out party. He was first-team All-Big East last year, averaging better than 23 points per game, and was named preseason AP All-American this season. But Powell had never done what he did against the Spartans on such a big stage — facing the No. 3 team in the country, in front of 14,000 fans, in the marquee game of the night, and on a bad ankle.
Most of his production came in the second half, but he was confident throughout. His first field goal came off a defensive rebound where he ran the ball up the court himself, stopped and fired away from three before Michigan State had a chance to set up defensively.
What Trenton Makes the World Takes Myles Powell goes crazy for 37 against sparty pic.twitter.com/CY9T6wVpgX— Hoop Fiends (@hoopfiends) November 15, 2019
That set the tone for the rest of his night. Nine of Powell’s 12 field goals came off the dribble and every one of his threes came from well behind the three-point line.
“I don’t know if God could have stopped him on some of those shots,” Izzo said.
Myles Powell from downtown! pic.twitter.com/DBrqreQwmY— Bryan García (@esperandomarzo) November 15, 2019
The second half is when it started to get ridiculous. He opened the half by flexing in Thomas Kithier’s face after scoring on him in the lane and drawing a foul. He then pulled up for a pair of threes that hit only net and finished twice inside between multiple Michigan State jerseys.
His greatest play came with 2:41 left. Coming off a pick, Powell had two Spartans on him. He had just enough space to let one fly, and knocked down a three with Gabe Brown’s hand in his face, again drawing the foul in the process. That shot put Seton Hall up five.
Myles Powell. Absurd. pic.twitter.com/MqMKvSxxTF— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) November 15, 2019
Thanks to what Willard called some poor clock management, the Pirates let that lead slip away. They did, however, have two chances to win the game in the final seconds. Both times, it appeared that a Seton Hall player drew contact, but no foul was called. Michigan State, whose own embattled player of the year candidate Cassius Winston gutted out a 21-point game, survived. Still, the story was the Seton Hall senior.
It wasn’t just his point total, gaudy as it may have been. Powell — whose bad ankle was the topic of all that pregame hysteria — commanded the Seton Hall offense, taking over the game whenever the Pirates had possession, then toying with a Spartan defense powerless to stop him. It was that New York-area moxie from a Trenton product feeding off of his hometown fans.
“They helped me get through the game,” he said.
Powell said his ankle is still bothering him and admitted that adrenaline helped get him through the game. Just don’t expect him to use it as an excuse. Seton Hall heads out on the road next to face a Saint Louis team it lost to in Newark last year. Powell expects to play, just like he did Thursday.
“I was just playing basketball,” he said. “I don’t want to keep talking about the ankle.”
There’s no need to ask about it anymore.