Seton Hall vastly outplayed a mediocre Nevada team for 35 minutes yesterday in the Virgin Islands before a late Wolfpack blitz cut the lead to a more respectable 8-point final deficit. Sterling Gibbs led all scorers with 15 and 3 assists while Khadeen Carrington contributed 11 off the bench en route to a 68-60 win that sets up a date with Gardner Webb on Sunday evening.
Seton Hall set the tone. The Pirates' 8-2 lead immediately after the tip didn't hold for long, but their tempo, aggressiveness, and passion set the tone for the game. A couple of early high percentage buckets that involved Isaiah Whitehead and full court pressure fit perfectly with the energy that Seton Hall brought over the first few minutes of the game. The full court pressure that was shuffled together with on-ball harassment in the half court disrupted a mediocre Nevada offense and was the perfect tool for Kevin Willard to utilize against an inferior opponent for most of the contest. Nevada had 12 total turnovers but 10 of them came in the first half and nearly all of them were forced by active hands from Pirate defenders.
Talk about balance. Everyone, including Rashed Anthony, contributed offensively and in other facets of the game on Friday. Isaiah Whitehead led the charge early with some impressive play on the offensive end, Angel Delgado battled on the boards throughout, Khadeen Carrington's 11-point spark off the bench was crucial, Brandon Mobley came on strong in the second half, and Sterling Gibbs was steady throughout. A little under one-third of Seton Hall's total points (22-of-68) came from their bench, which Kevin Willard has used liberally so far this season.
Free throw shooting! While it wasn't the cause of Nevada's late comeback, Seton Hall's free throw shooting struggled yet again yesterday. The Hall's 54-percent rate from the charity stripe is only good for 325th in the country, something that will be a major factor in closer games. Angel Delgado is the main culprit, which is hard to hide since he takes a lot of contact in the paint, but guards Isaiah Whitehead, Sterling Gibbs, and Khadeen Carrington were an uncharacteristic 4-of-10 from the line too.
Nevada's comeback. Seton Hall led 62-43 with 5:45 to play prior to a 17-6 Nevada run to close out the game. Conventionally, you would think poor free throw shooting in 1-and-1 situations led to the surge, but that wasn't the case. It seemed to me that Nevada switched up their zone defense to man-to-man after the under-8 timeout and amped up their energy, much like Seton Hall's throughout the game. Sitting on a large lead, the Pirates' offense didn't respond well while the Wolfpack also benefited from some decent shooting late on. I wouldn't classify this as a collapse, but if the inbounds pass to Jaren Sina that was nearly turned over (I didn't think it was a foul on Nevada) was called differently, Seton Hall fans would have been really sweating bullets. I'm not sure there is much cause for concern here, as Seton Hall vastly outplayed Nevada for 35 minutes.
How good is Nevada? My answer: not very. Coming into the season, I expected the Wolfpack to be a step above Mercer, but it looks like they are just about equal to their SoCon counterpart. Both of Seton Hall's first two opponents aren't very threatening on the offensive end and Nevada had struggled against two non-Division I foes prior to last night. Gardner Webb looks to be more efficient offensively and play at a faster tempo, which should ask more questions of Seton Hall's defense on Sunday night.
And-1: How about the upsets in the Paradise Jam? I predicted that Old Dominion would beat LSU yesterday, but didn't think Gardner Webb would upend Clemson, though I suspected it would be close. I guessed that Illinois State had an outside chance at making the final several months ago, and now they just have to knock off Old Dominion to do so.
Look for a preview of Seton Hall and Gardner Webb's Paradise Jam semifinal match up early Sunday morning.