Leading by twelve points with 12:45 to play, it looked like Seton Hall had shut down an offensively challenged Providence team and was riding the hot shooting hand of Brian Oliver (18 pts, 4/7 3pt) to a comfortable Big East opening win without starting center Gene Teague.
Showing shades of their 11-point collapse against Oklahoma in a similar span of game time earlier in the season, Seton Hall went cold on offense down the stretch, allowing Providence back into the game. As lead guard and NBA prospect Bryce Cotton (25 pts, 5 asts) heated up after being outplayed by Sterling Gibbs (15 pts, 4 asts) for about thirty minutes, so did the Friars. Gibbs was whistled for one incorrect call, two very questionable fouls, and a fourth foul that could have been incorrect (poor camera angle) over a 6:17 second half span that loosened the reigns on Seton Hall's ability to guard Cotton.
Despite Providence's seventh man (the Dunk increased its decibels as the officials turned the tide, too), a warmed up Bryce Cotton, and having to play centerless for forty-six minutes (Aaron Geramipoor played for four minutes with a heavily taped right ankle and scored four points), Seton Hall prevailed, perhaps literally against the odds. Strong defense despite a thin front court and an increased effort to getting out in transition were Seton Hall's forte combination for much of the game.
"I thought we shot a lot of jumpers early," head coach Kevin Willard explained to Gary Cohen and Dave Popkin post-game on AM 970. "And again, we were kind of out of rhythm offensively, because you guys know, all we've done for the last couple of games is throw it inside, throw it inside, throw it inside, to the big fella [Gene Teague]."
Without Gene Teague and with Aaron Geramipoor limited to four minutes, Seton Hall had to rely on Patrik Auda (11 pts, 2 rebs), who played twelve minutes against Lafayette after returning against Eastern Washington by playing six minutes, and an in-form Brandon Mobley (16 pts, 6 rebs) in their frontcourt. Both players did they job, and then some. Auda played an astounding thirty-seven minutes after Willard originally planned on 20-25 minutes for the mobile power forward.
"Patrik played thirty-seven minutes of probably the best basketball I've seen him play. His stats don't look great, he just played tremendous, he really did ... I'm really happy about Patrik. I thought Patrik played really really well. I thought he was aggressive ... I'm happy that he was able to handle those minutes and play as well as he did." Auda could have seen more time before being sidelined with cramping, an effect of playing more than double the minutes he had seen in the past two games.
"Patty started cramping. I kept asking him ‘Are you all right?'. He was fine, he said he was okay, but I wasn't going to put him back in. That's how you hurt the foot, you take a wrong step, you do something trying to protect the cramping, you step the wrong way. That's why I didn't play him, I just said ‘You know what, we lose the game, I'm proud of these guys' efforts, I don't care.' I can't get him hurt."
Brandon Mobley added his sixth double-digit scoring performance in seven games after posting sixteen against the Friars. Mobley is now averaging 13.6 ppg since Seton Hall's loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, a number that doubles his average (6.8 ppg) over the Pirates' first seven games.
A backcourt focal point going into the contest was the head-to-head matchup between lead guards Sterling Gibbs and Bryce Cotton, a battle which was definitively won by Gibbs for the middle twenty-five minutes of the game. Like how they finished regulation, Seton Hall looked out of sorts for the first ten minutes of the game as they failed to turn a gaudy defensive performance into a transition game. "[We slowed down the game] Probably a little bit too much. I think we slowed it down too much in the beginning of the game, that got us off to a little bit of a slow start."
Seton Hall's offense came and went on Tuesday, but perhaps their most constant showing was on the defensive end. The official box score will tell you that only six Seton Hall steals were recorded, fourteen Providence turnovers committed, and only one Fuquan Edwin (8 pts, 5 rebs, 2 blks) steal witnessed, but defensive intensity and an on-court desire that had been questioned earlier this season by Pirate fans kept Seton Hall in the game early, and eventually won it for them in the second overtime.
Trailing by a point with :08 remaining on the clock in double overtime and Providence inbounding the ball, Seton Hall doubled Bryce Cotton, forcing an errant pass that quickly deflected off of Brandon Mobley and then off of LaDontae Henton and into the stands. The forced turnover set up Sterling Gibbs' game-winning pair of made free throws after drawing a foul on Bryce Cotton with four seconds remaining. After the flak sent Seton Hall's way by the officials for a good twenty-five minutes, it was fitting that the foul on Cotton was just his second non-intentional foul (he fouled in a ‘foul to give' situation earlier in game) in over four games.
Immediately after the final horn sounded, Brandon Mobley let out a rebel yell laced with pure passion and elation that was heard throughout the Dunkin Donuts Center. The brief moment perfectly encapsulated the day for Seton Hall.
"These guys showed unbelievable heart," professed Kevin Willard after the game. "We wanted to do something special for Eugene [Teague], we talked about that in the locker room before the game. Just play with great emotion, play with great attitude, that's all we asked.
"The guys did a whole lot of good things out there ... I'm just proud of these guys."