In their third meeting with Butler, Seton Hall held on to knock off Butler 51-50, in the opening contest of the Big East tournament, setting up a matinee with the Villanova Wildcats Thursday afternoon. The Pirates opened up very aggressively on the defensive end, a complete reversal of the lack of energy on display in Indiana Saturday. In the week leading up to the game, we heard how Kevin Willard intended to open up with man-to-man defense, but prior to the game, he told Erin Andrews he would open in zone. Whether Willard was attempting to keep his opponent guessing is anyone's guess, but, we actually saw a bit of both.
The Pirates opened with their match-up zone, however Jaren Sina was responsible for face-guarding Kellen Dunham, in what was essentially, a modified box-in-one. Sina did an excellent job of smothering Dunham, preventing the sophomore guard from even attempting a shot for almost the first four minutes. When the Pirates transitioned into their base match-up zone, Sina's teammates perfectly executed the plan to take Dunham out of the game, forcing his teammates to beat them.
Dunham was held without a field goal in the first half, while the rest of the Bulldogs combined to shoot 35% from the field and only 9% from long-distance. Despite an encouraging defense, Seton Hall was unable to take full advantage as they matched, and actually surpassed Butler's poor shooting grade, with a 32% mark of their own. The Pirates led by as many as 6 points before the under-12 timeout, but the ever so common 'end of half offensive lull,' that we've become so accustomed to, allowed the Bulldogs to cut the deficit to a single point at halftime.
The defense was once again the story to open up the half as Seton Hall managed to keep Butler without a field goal for the first 7:30 minutes. An early 11-0 run featured a heavy dose of Eugene Teague working inside (2-for-2) and also finding his teammates (2 assists), leading to a 40-28 cushion at the under-12 timeout. As the Pirates focused on getting the ball to Teague, Butler was forced to adjust bringing an extra body down-low. Teague made them pay with a beautiful inside-out dish finding Jaren Sina open for a 3-pointer, followed by a nifty pass inside to fellow big, Brandon Mobley.
A Brian Oliver (10pts/9reb) 3-pointer put the Pirates in cruise control as they led by 13-points with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation. However, per the course, the 'end of half offensive lull,' would once again rear it's ugly head for the second time this evening. Patrik Auda picked up his 4th personal foul with 13:24 remaining and the Bulldogs promptly ripped off 7-unanswered and cut the Seton Hall lead to a mere 6-points at the under-8. With Auda on the bench, Seton Hall's ball movement and offensive execution was drastically impacted as the Pirates failed to create any offense that didn't involve Gene Teague (14 points, 13 rebounds). The absolutely dominant Teague was the only player to score following the aforementioned Brian Oliver 3-pointer. As I've mentioned previously, the Pirates will go as far in the Big East Tournament as Teague will take them. So far, so good.
After Butler cut the lead to 2-points (4:44), Kevin Willard's hand was forced, he called timeout and put Auda back on the floor in front of the under-4 timeout. Unfortunately, Auda picked up his fifth in less than a minute, forcing his teammates to extend the season without him. Leading by 3, with 50 seconds remaining, Sterling Gibbs attempted to inbound the basketball underneath his own hoop, however Kellen Dunham read his attempt clear as day, cut off Brandon Mobley and sent home an uncontested dunk to pull Butler within a point.
After a forced Sterling Gibbs 3-point attempt missed long, Butler had what appeared to be a chance for the win as Dunham tried to find Erik Fromm, cutting underneath the Pirates hoop. The Big East defensive player of the year, Fuquan Edwin (10pts/3stl), intercepted the attempt, corralled the basketball while falling out of bounds and found Brandon Mobley who the Bulldogs subsequently sent to the line. Mobley missed the front-end of his 1-and-1, but Alex Barlow's half court heave hit high on the backboard, sending the Pirates to the second round.
Seton Hall has a quick turnaround time as they'll take on the #1 seed, Villanova Wildcats Thursday at noon.