It was a microcosm of the entire game. With :05 remaining in the low-scoring, choppy duel, Fairleigh Dickinson's Xavier Harris was at the free throw line, up 54-51 and shooting two free throws to ice the game. After missing both, diminutive 5-foot-11 senior leader Sidney Sanders Jr. (23 pts, 9 rebs, 9 asts, 3 stls) did what he did all game: outplay Seton Hall.
Positioned on the block next to Seton Hall's (4-3) lengthy 6-foot-9 forward Brandon Mobley (7 pts, 6 rebs), Sanders skied for the rebound and tipped it to himself seemingly from within the outstretched arms of Mobley, sealing Fairleigh Dickinson's (3-6) second shocking upset over a high-major New Jersey school in as many games. The win was FDU's second in a row after dropping 20-straight games to Division 1 opposition. It was their first over Seton Hall since 2006 and 4th in 21 attempts.
Fairleigh Dickinson frustrated Seton Hall early on by implementing a 2/3rd-court 1-2-2 press for most of the game. The pressure, something Seton Hall has seen little of this season, combined with a 3-2 zone created 15 turnovers and resulted in a disrupted Seton Hall offense that usually runs through Sterling Gibbs (3 pts, 3 asts, 0-7 fg), who was held scoreless and with little impact in the first half.
After coming into the contest with the second best FTA/FGA percentage in the country, Seton Hall managed just 2 free throw attempts over the first 20 minutes, and just 4 attempts from Gibbs, stats indicative of FDU's defensive impact on the game. Most of the visiting Knights' points came off the fast break in the first half, where senior point guard Sidney Sanders Jr. excelled. When they weren't running in transition, Fairleigh Dickinson controlled the slow-tempo by running their offense with under 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
In an attempt to cure their first half woes, Sterling Gibbs was heavily involved in Seton Hall's second half attack. The more direct game plan didn't yield immediate results on the scoreboard, but it did drive Seton Hall into the bonus with 14:50 remaining in the game, an advantage that the Pirates failed to capitalize on.
Sidney Sanders Jr. continued to lead Fairleigh Dickinson on both ends of the court in the second half. He was able to consistently break Seton Hall pressure when applied and prevented Sterling Gibbs from earning a trip to the foul line until 9:55 remaining in the second half. FDU dodged a bullet when Sanders only had to be spelled from 9:37-6:32 in the second half by Malachi Nix after banging his knee hard following a Brian Oliver (12 pts, 4-9 3pt) foul.
With Seton Hall trailing 55-51 and 1:28 to play, foul-plagued Jaren Sina (6 pts, 2/3 3pt) drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 55-54. On FDU's ensuing possession, Brandon Mobley blocked Sanders' shot on his drive to the basket, which was incorrectly allowed to stand -- Mobley hit the point guard on his right wrist. Channeling karma, Mobley was then blocked by former Niagara forward Scooter Gillette (15 pts, 6 rebs, 4 blks), who recorded 4 blocks on the day, on Seton Hall's next possession. Sidney Sanders then sank two free throws to extend the Knights' lead to 57-54 before Sterling Gibbs attempted a confusion-filled 3-pointer that fell short and into Xavier Harris' hands, setting up Sanders' game-clinching offensive rebound after two missed free throws.
After analyzing Seton Hall's inability to handle Fairleigh Dickinson's 1-2-2 pressure, Sterling Gibbs' absence from the first half offense, the team's collectively poor passing, and failure to attack the basket, a lot of conclusions can be drawn. Beyond these deductions, there is an underlying theme that is borderline indisputable: Fairleigh Dickinson wanted to win more than Seton Hall before and during today's game.
A theme that desperately needs to be righted by Seton Hall following a loss to statistically one of the worst teams in the country.