Seton Hall secured their third Big East road victory in five attempts, defeating Xavier 68-60 on Saturday. The Pirates traveled to the Cintas Center without sharpshooting senior Brian Oliver, who was left in New Jersey due to what Kevin Willard declared, "a coach's decision." Willard told Gary Cohen that Oliver was left home and also told the CBSSN booth, that it would likely remain just a one-game decision. After the loss to Butler, there was plenty of finger pointing going around as multiple players spoke about selfishness and playing for oneself, instead of the team. Whether Oliver was the unnamed man (one NYPost writer claimed it was Gibbs), earned his suspension for standing up to the unnamed man, or was suspended for an entirely different reason is unknown at this point.
Credit to Kevin Willard who seems very consistent in these matters. Not one person or one situation, is above the team, a message the coach reenforced this afternoon. Facing a tough road contest and the possibility of falling to an almost unrecoverable 3-6 in conference, Willard refused to make an exception for his best 3-point shooter.
Stephane Manga made his first career start in place of Oliver, as Willard looked to go deep into his bench to find an offensive spark. After Manga banked in his first field goal attempt, he quickly picked up two personal fouls and was relegated to the bench for most of the half. The Pirates were paced on both ends by the captain, Fuquan Edwin, who filled up the stat sheet leading the way with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Jaren Sina (12pts/4ast/3reb, 2-of-3 3PT) saw more time than usual at the point, probably splitting duties 50-50 with Sterling Gibbs (10pts/4ast). When both were on the floor together, it was often Sina playing the role of floor general, showing good patience waiting for the floor to open up before making the correct read. Sina probably doesn't get enough credit defensively either, he's incredibly active around the perimeter with good hands and footwork and is a solid rebounder for a guard of his size. His defense can be one of his strengths, as long as he can keep his opponent in front of him.
Both teams seesawed their way through the opening minutes of the second half. Following a Matt Stainbrook layup that pushed the Musketeer lead to three, Seton Hall ripped off a 10-1 run, before Xavier answered with six straight of their own. A brilliant Sterling Gibbs cross over, dribble-drive and dish to Aaron Geramipoor for a flush (8:44) accounted for the fifth lead change of the half, but Xavier immediately answered (8:27) for the sixth.
In a three minute stretch late in the second half, the Pirates made 3-of-4 from deep, two from Sina (including a 4-point play), and one from Brandon Mobley (11pts/4reb/blk), as Seton Hall extended their lead to nine at the under 4-timeout. Even with Eugene Teague (9 points) fouling out with 3:15 remaining, and a very similar, but brief, Oklahoma deja vu sequence, the Pirates hot shooting built a large enough cushion that allowed them to dribble the air out and hang on for the victory.
Facing adversity following the bad loss to Butler and the internal finger pointing and suspension that followed, Seton Hall could have easily rolled into Cincinnati and promptly rolled over. Instead, they played crisp team basketball and handed Xavier their first home loss of the season, the same feat they pulled off at Providence, whose only home loss also came at the hands of these Pirates.
Following a week off, Seton Hall is next in action Friday evening on the road at Villanova, where they'll attempt to win their 4th Big East road win in six tries.