After dishing out his fourth suspension in the last six games, Kevin Willard and the Seton Hall Pirates, short Sterling Gibbs, lost another heartbreaker at Creighton on Sunday evening, 72-71. Gibbs, seemingly lost the starting PG role to Jaren Sina in last Thursday's win over Georgetown and was left home due to attitude issues that were present during Saturday's practice. It's expected the suspension would only hold for Sunday's contest at Creighton, meaning Seton Hall would have to fly the sophomore out in advance of Tuesday's action at DePaul.
Without Gibbs, Jaren Sina (5pts/3ast/2reb) received his second consecutive start after posting 10 points and 4 assists in 26 minutes as the Pirates made easy work of the Hoyas on Thursday. On Sunday, an early personal foul against Sina sprung walk-on Travis Berry into action for only the fifth time this season. Berry checked in prior to the under-16 timeout and while he deferred on all possessions where he touched the ball, he did find Brandon Mobley (11pts/5reb/2stl) for an elbow jumper that gave the Pirates a 10-7 lead.
Seton Hall dominated on the glass early and held a 7-1 advantage over the Blue Jays as they controlled the pace in the first 12 minutes of play. Unfortunately, the all too familiar turnover problem reared it's ugly head as the Pirates gave away the basketball seven times in the first fourteen minutes. The extra possessions gifted to the Blue Jays allowed the home team to string together a 16-5 run, highlighted by a couple Wragge bombs that put Seton Hall on the ropes late in the first half. A well-timed Kevin Willard timeout set up a 9-0 answer that put the Pirates back in the lead for the half's final minute. However, a deep Grant Gibbs (16pts, 3-of-4 3pt) 3-pointer shot over a soft zone, sent the Blue Jays into the intermission leading 38-36.
An immediate Doug McDermott (29 points, 8-of-14) 3-pointer opened the second half and set the tone for the half's opening six minutes. Following the make, Jaren Sina seemed to lose awareness of the shot clock and a 35-second violation ensued, before Ethan Wragge was fouled during his 3-point attempt. After falling behind by 10 points, Seton Hall managed to cut the deficit to 6-points on four different possessions, before Doug McDermott took over the game on his very own bobble-head night. McDermott's second half clinic consisted off two hanging one-legged jumpers, a tough layup attempt inside with his off hand and a flailing tip-in attempt; all of which managed to catch the correct english off the backboard or rim, only to fall through the basket.
Finding themselves trailing by double digits at a hostile CenturyLink arena, it would have been easy to chalk up tonight's contest as another moral victory, or, a good effort, instead, a heavy dosage of Eugene Teague, Patrik Auda and Fuquan Edwin would give the Blue Jays everything they could handle. The Pirates big men finished strong as they banged away inside, leading the charge in pulling their teammates within a bucket just prior to the under-8 timeout. The senior captain, Fuquan Edwin, was responsible for big-shot after big-shot in the game's final ten minutes. A made 3-pointer (9:18), cut Creighton's lead to 2 and a jump shot minutes later (5:45), cut the deficit to a single point.
After a brilliant defensive possession featured smothering defense by Edwin (2:57) who held 4 fouls in his pocket, the Pirates had a chance to take the lead with less than 3 minutes remaining. Edwin tried to outrace his defender, but ended up turning the ball over to the Blue Jays, who were subsequently fouled and sent to the line by Brandon Mobley.
After splitting the free throws, a blocked Edwin layup set up another Doug McDermott one-legged fall away jumper that pushed the Creighton lead back to 5 points with 2 minutes in regulation. A pair of Fuquan Edwin free throws narrowed the Creighton lead to a single possession with 1:14 remaining. After a missed Jahenns Manigat 3-point attempt, Seton Hall inbounded the ball with 33 seconds on the clock and Jaren Sina immediately found an open Brandon Mobley at the top of the key for a potential game-tying attempt. No good. Mobley's attempt clanked off the rim, the junior fouled out and McDermott was sent to the line for a pair of potential game-icing free throws. Surprisingly, McDermott missed both and the Pirates rushed the ball to the front court where Willard called timeout with 13 seconds remaining.
Fuquan Edwin was fouled in a non-shooting situation before the Pirates could run their designed play and the senior stepped to the line and made both attempts. Seton Hall decided to go for the trap on the ensuing inbound play and managed to wrestle the ball loose from Creighton. The loose ball rolled right between Fuquan Edwin's fingertips just as he happened to be positioned perfectly under the basket. The ball deflected off of Edwin's hand and was secured by Ethan Wragge, laying on the floor, who drew the Seton Hall foul. After missing his first free throw, Wragge appeared to miss the second intentionally. The Pirates managed to find Edwin for a 35-foot prayer, but the attempt hit the backboard high and wide, allowing Creighton to hold on.
Despite the outcome, there's no questioning the effort that was on display from Seton Hall tonight. There were multiple occasions where the Pirates found themselves in danger, yet battled back every single time. To the final gun, Seton Hall scrapped, answered and found a way to stay within reach of pulling off the upset. Unfortunately, the ball literally bounced the wrong way tonight as Edwin was unable to come up with the final loose ball opportunity. The Pirates will travel to Chicago tonight, where they will be joined by Sterling Gibbs in time for Tuesday's duel with DePaul in search of their 6th conference win.