Beginning conference play without their starting center, Eugene Teague, the Seton Hall Pirates won their Big East opener, defeating Providence (and the officials) 81-80 in double overtime Tuesday. The first half saw an active Pirates defense that surprisingly opened up in a strict man-to-man defense in the game's early minutes, a different look from their base matchup zone. Finding themselves unable to create any points off of turnovers, Seton Hall switched back to zone and generated some quick offense off the bench from Sterling Gibbs that kept them in striking defense throughout the half.
Coming off the bench for the second time in as many games responding from injury, Gibbs' contributions were present all over the court. A couple moments in particular stand out. In the midst of scoring 7-straight for Seton Hall, and with PC threatening to add to their early lead, Gibbs snatched the ball from Bryce Cotton's pocket in the Seton Hall backcourt and finished a fast break contested layup on the other end. After his layup was answered with one from Lee Goldsbrough that kept the PC lead at 5, Gibbs responded by drilling a big time 3-pointer, signaling the Pirates were not going to lay down simply because of their absence inside.
With just under 4 minutes to play in the first half, Brian Oliver deflected a loose ball under the Seton Hall basket which was corralled by Gibbs. Almost recklessly, Gibbs looked up and immediately decided to heave a frozen rope to a streaking, post-route running Fuquan Edwin, who converted the fast break to pull the Pirates within a point. For a second, I forgot what sport we were watching. The pass couldn't have had better touch as it found Edwin's finger tips perfectly. The son of a football player, surely that was one basketball pass that Temple would be proud of.
Coming out of intermission, the Pirates shot the lights out of the Dunk, converting four of their first eight 3-point attempts, three of which were made by Brian Oliver in the half's first 5 minutes. Providence was largely unable to exploit their size advantage inside and Seton Hall's hot perimeter shooting saw a second half lead stretch to 12-points with just over 10-minutes to play. The Friars managed to close the gap, large in part, assisted by a handful of ticky-tack home fouls called on Seton Hall with Providence already in the bonus. What began as ticky-tack, would eventually turn to downright embarassing as the game played out. In the final 11 minutes of regulation, the Friars were sent to the line on numerous non-shooting foul calls and two in particular that were called on Sterling Gibbs, were not fouls at all.
LaDontate Henton's runner tied the game at 58 with 34 seconds remaining in regulation, setting up the final possession for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard decided not to call a timeout, but instead had Gibbs dribble the clock down to 7 seconds before running their offense. The problem? Providence was more than happy to oblige as they were sitting on a foul to give. Once Gibbs began his penetration, Cotton alertly fouled him, sending the Pirates to the sideline to set up their final attempt. If Willard decided to call the timeout, Providence would been forced to use their last foul much earlier in the game's final seconds, which would have been of advantage to the Pirates.
What began as questionable officiating in the first half, turned into an unequivocally horrendous display in the first overtime period. With Providence trailing by 2 and Bryce Cotton penetrating, a foul was called on Patrik Auda for mysterious body contact. With the game tied and Fuquan Edwin dribbling coast-to-coast, two Friars absolutely mugged Edwin, which essentially tackled him to the ground, in a situation where a foul could have been called on either player. No foul call, but due to said mugging, Edwin's knee was taken out and had to be helped off of the court. The Friars were allowed to tie the game despite not being fouled by Patrik Auda, but Seton Hall wasn't allowed to win the game after Edwin was brought to the ground by two Friars. I've never been one to complain about the referees (read previous recaps if this sounds at all whiny), but I don't know that I've ever seen officiating this one-sided for the home team. Embarrassing.
In the second overtime and without Fuquan Edwin available to the Pirates for the first 3 minutes, the Friars managed to take a two-point lead on Bryce Cotton's layup with 2-minutes remaining. The planets then aligned as the Friars were called for a foul on a Brandon Mobley 3-point try, that would give Seton Hall a brief lead. However, when the referees ruled a goal-tend (replays show the ball was never touched) and foul against Fuquan Edwin, going Bryce Cotton's way, it was evident there was little the Pirates could do to win the game.
Down three points with 14 seconds remaining, Willard decided not to shoot a 3-point attempt for the potential tie. Instead, Gibbs dribbled into the lane and converted a layup, leaving Seton Hall trailing by a point with 8 seconds remaining. On the ensuing inbounds pass, the Pirates defense managed to turn over the Friars as the ball was deflected out of bounds. In the game's final play, Sterling Gibbs was able to draw a foul on a pump fake in the paint. Gibbs calmly stepped to the line and sank both attempts, cool and collected, leading the Pirates to victory for the second time tonight.
My blood is still boiling and I'm seriously still at a loss of what we just witnessed. Again, I will never complain about officiating to this degree, but more than anything, I was furious that these kids were going to take a loss after their resiliency and fight defeated both their opponent and the officials AT LEAST twice. In the end, we witnessed the hardest fought victory of the Kevin Willard era. These players should be proud, just as Kevin Willard and the entire Seton Hall fan base is proud of them tonight. Against all odds, they somehow were able to keep their composure and win with class.
From all of us at South Orange Juice we wish you all a very happy New Year's Eve. Please be safe.