For the fifth time this season and fourth time in the Big East, Seton Hall (14-13, 5-9) lost a game by a single point. The latest episode of missed opportunities came in the form of a 72-71 loss at CenturyLink Arena to No. 11 Creighton Sunday afternoon. Seton Hall played without starting guard Sterling Gibbs (14.3 ppg, 4.4 apg), who stayed in New Jersey due to a suspension before flying to Chicago after the game last night.
Spurred on by missed Creighton free throws (the Bluejays missed five of their last six, including an empty trip from the typically lights out (88.4% FT) Doug McDermott), a resilient Seton Hall was within fingertips of having the ball under Creighton's basket down one with seconds to play. After receiving an inbound pass, McDermott threw the ball away while trapped just after Fuquan Edwin (21 pts) sank two free throws to bring Seton Hall within one with :09 to play. The loose ball squirted right through Edwin's hands into a scrum under the basket that was ruled a person foul on Patrik Auda instead of a tie up, which would have gave Seton Hall possession. Par the course, Ethan Wragge missed both shots from the stripe but Edwin would miss a near impossible off-balance shot from half court as time expired to deny Seton Hall a massive road win.
Replay showed that Seton Hall should have been given a tie up instead of Patrik Auda's fifth personal foul during the loose ball scramble. This decision came a possession after Brandon Mobley was whistled for his fifth personal in a trap situation where he didn't commit a foul. "I don't know, it was tough," said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard post-game on 970 AM. "I think in those situations, it's tough to call a foul there in a 1-point game. Man, it went right through Fuquan's legs though. We didn't want to foul, letting the time come off, you're starting to play against a tough free throw shooting team, they're going to foul you, you're going to make some free throws, then you're going to have to foul again. So I said let's try to go for it and try to get the steal. He [the official] was expecting us to foul, we made the right rotations, I couldn't see what happened after that.
"I thought we could have executed a little better tonight. I thought we had some easy breakdowns on the defensive end in the first half that really cost us, but we did listen on the offensive end. Early turnovers hurt us, I think we had seven in the first 11-12 minutes and I really thought that hurt us. Some easy ones. But we did a good job of throwing it back inside, I thought we did a good job of driving, we had some tough turnovers late in the game. They did a good job of turning up their defense."
Seton Hall failed to score a field goal (0-6, 0-4 3pt) over the final 5:45 of play, but did notch eight made free throws over the same span of time. "I think we went to the free throw line eight times though during that stretch. So sometimes made field goals is a little bit misconstrued, because you're getting to the free throw line. I think we made six free throws in the last four minutes. You don't have to make field goals sometimes," explained Willard. "I thought we got some good looks. I was really proud of the way we offensive rebounded. I thought Eugene played terrific. He gave us a lot of second shots, kept us in the game when it was a 8-10 point game early in the second half, he really battled. And it's a tough matchup for him because he has to guard [Ethan] Wragge and he's not used to dealing with stuff like that."
Willard's high praise for Gene Teague was well warranted, the big man, though absent down the stretch, scored 14 points and added 11 boards, four of which were on the offensive glass. Teague's performance was probably his best since suffering his concussion against Lafayette in mid-December.
Coming on the tail end of another suspension handed down by Kevin Willard, Seton Hall put on their third straight impressive performance in as many games. "It's amazing, when these guys, and that's what I just talked to them about. When they collectively understand that we have to have a great attitude. We aren't talented enough where we can just show up and go to work, we need everybody to have a great attitude, to work hard, to try to get better every day, it doesn't matter that we're in the end of February, we can still get better. And when we do, we can beat anybody, I know we can," proclaimed Willard.
The one-point loss was Seton Hall's fifth of the season and fourth of the Big East campaign. The Pirates also dropped one-possession games to Mercer (2ot) and Saint Peter's (ot) and suffered a four-point loss to Fairleigh Dickinson. Altogether, Seton Hall has lost eight games by a total of 15 points. "It's been a tough season, it's been frustrating, a lot of 1-point losses. But Jaren Sina did an unbelievable job tonight," said Willard, who started Jaren Sina (5 pts, 3 asts, 37 minutes) for the second straight game. "Battling all night long, played really good defense too. I was so happy, he really followed the game plan well and as a freshman sometimes that's what he struggles with, and he did a great job."
In addition to Sina's defensive performance, the freshman had to play without any cover at guard, Seton Hall played admirable man-to-man defense that held Creighton to modest numbers on the night (14-28 2pt, 8-15 3pt, 20-30 ft, 3 OReb), but forced Doug McDermott (29 pts, 8-14 fg, 12-16 ft) to make his shots. "I really believe to beat them, you've got to take everybody else and just let him [McDermott] get his 30. You've got to make him work for it now, he made a tough stepback late in the game, we let him go left, we were trying to force him right, but he made a lot of tough twos, which doesn't hurt you. We made a lot of tough twos. I think that negates itself throughout the game. We came out and gave him a wide open three to start that half, that hurt us. Late in the second half, we left Wragge open. We talked about it the last day, day and a half, of not letting Manigat and Wragge beat us," said Willard, whose team held Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge to three points and nine points respectively. "And I thought we did a much better job in the second half, and I think that's why they didn't score as much, [we were] trying to get those guys out of the flow, let McDermott do his thing. You're not going to shut this team out, but you've got to try your best at times to make everybody else non-factors. Manigat goes 1-4, Haralds [Karlis] came off him early in the first half, if we don't do that, he probably doesn't make one [a three]."
Seton Hall forward Patrik Auda (12 pts, 5 rebs, 3 asts) was given the incredibly tough task of guarding Doug McDermott for most of the game. Auda held his own on the offensive end, where he showed continued signs of improvement on his game, but succumbed to foul trouble on the defensive end, as most players will when guarding McDermott. "I really wanted him more in the game, but man, foul trouble really ate him up. That's something when you're playing McDermott, that's one of the tough things about playing him one-on-one is you've got to be willing maybe to get fouls. He gets a great whistle, he deserves a great whistle, no doubt, he deserves it, but he also gets a really good whistle," said Willard of McDermott. "A lot of foul calls that other guys don't get he gets and that's a production of him working hard for it. When a kid works that hard on the offensive end, if I was a ref, I'd probably give ‘em to him too."
With McDermott, Manigat, and Wragge zeroed in on, it was inevitable that a prolific offensive team such as Creighton would find another source of points on the night. Grant Gibbs filled that role by scoring 16 points on nine shots (2-3 fg, 3-4 3pt). "Grant Gibbs really hurt us. He played terrific. He's a guy, everybody got to play him when he was hurt, I wish we could have played him when he was hurt," joked Willard. "Because again, he's just a smart player, a smart defender, plays different positions for them, he's just a fun guy to watch."
Looking ahead, Seton Hall will rest today before taking on DePaul at AllState Arena tomorrow night. The Blue Demons have lost ten straight Big East games, but outplayed Marquette on Saturday before narrowly falling to the Golden Eagles in overtime. "We've got to bounce back, and we've done a good job with that before, all year long. We'll get on the plane, get to Chicago, let the guys just be depressed, we won't watch film tonight. I'm just going to let them rent a movie, take them out and get something good to eat. And then tomorrow, we'll wake up, watch film, and get ready for a very good DePaul team.
"Billy Garrett is back and he's playing terrific. We have a lot of games in a short amount of time. I have to check on Eugene, because he took a pretty good blow toward the end of the game. Fuquan played a lot of minutes, Jaren played a lot of minutes. Tomorrow is a mental day. There's not much you can do in a day, it'll be a mental day. We'll probably take them out to the mall, chill out for a while, then watch some more film, then wake up and get ready to go."
The suspended Sterling Gibbs, who flew out to Chicago to meet up with the team last night, is expected to return to action Tuesday against DePaul. After displaying their third straight game of inspired basketball, Kevin Willard is pleased with the response that he has received from his team since cracking down. "All in all, I'm really proud of this group. I think they're starting to get it. I've had to give some lessons out, I don't like suspending guys. I don't like going on the road playing the No. 8 team in the country without one of our players, but either guys learn or they're not going to play. When we have an attitude that we're going to work hard and have a great attitude we're a great team. If we don't, we're a bad team. That's just the reality of the fact. We need everybody to be together, we need everybody to focus on the team, we need everybody to worry about not themselves, but each other. And that goes 1-through-17, that includes me. We need to show up to work, have a great attitude, put your work in, and then if you want to be a in a bad mood, be in a bad mood by yourself. None of you guys are allowed to come to work and have bad days, these guys have to learn you can't come to work and have a bad day.
"Hopefully Sterling learned his lesson, we'll find out tonight. If he did, great, again I don't hold grudges. I'd love to have him back. If he didn't, then great. It's his decision, players make decisions, I don't make them. I always laugh when people say ‘Oh, I can't believe you did that.' I say 'I didn't do anything.' Players make up their mind of what to do and everyone has their own mind. Hopefully we'll have a full squad, if not this squad is good enough to beat anybody, we'll just keep grinding, we'll just keep going. We'll bounce back, I know these guys will."