It was the Sterling Gibbs show in the finale of the Paradise Jam as Seton Hall notched an 84-80 win over Illinois State of the Missouri Valley late on Monday night. Gibbs scored a career-high 40 points on 10-of-14 shooting (7-9 3pt) and constantly staved off the Redbirds' efforts to close a large deficit put on them in the first half.
Seton Hall came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, with their fuel coming from stellar outside shooting. The Hall attacked Illinois State early in their half-court sets and looked to run in transition from the opening tip after a slew of early missed Redbird shots handed them that opportunity on a platter.
Isaiah Whitehead started an avalanche of three-pointers with a trey from the corner for Seton Hall's first points and Sterling Gibbs quickly followed his example by torching Illinois State from all over the Virgin Islands gym. To start, Gibbs drilled four straight three-pointers while Jaren Sina (11 pts) and Khadeen Carrington (3 pts) also joined the outside shooting party that busted the Redbirds' zone.
Whitehead was the most effective we've seen him in Pirate blue, scoring 18 points and dishing six assists on the night, though he did pick up six of Seton Hall's 22 turnovers.
A 30-9 lead at the under-eight media timeout dwindled to ten after Illinois State started a 16-4 run by switching from zone to a man-to-man defense and the energy brought by sixth man and former Pirate recruiting target Bobby Hunter (23 pts -- career high). During the same stretch 16-4 stretch, Seton Hall failed to make a single field goal (but made eight free throws) until Brandon Mobley buried a clutch trey from the wing with shades of Haralds Karlis against Mercer written all over it that sent the Pirates into the locker room with a 41-27 halftime lead.
Illinois State started the second half back in their zone and looked keen on trimming Seton Hall's lead further, but early foul trouble to Bobby Hunter, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (14 pts, 4 stls), and Reggie Lynch (4 pts) handicapped their efforts as Gibbs kept the Redbirds at bay.
His career-high 40 points single-handedly kept Seton Hall's ship afloat, especially in the second half when the Pirates looked rattled when Illinois State cut their deficit to just seven prior to the under-12 media timeout via full court pressure. "We didn't handle it as good as I thought we would with three guards out there, but that was a little bit of a lack of preparation," said Kevin Willard of Illinois State's pressure on AM 970 post-game.
Back-to-back triples, his fifth and sixth on the night, effectively doused the Redbirds run, but Gibbs wasn't done. He went on to score 11 more later in the half, most of them free throws, to solidify his tournament MVP status.
"Sterling just played on another level," said Willard. "He really carried us."
Illinois State's late pressure exposed Seton Hall and would shrink their lead to six with a minute to go, but the Pirates ultimately won the battle of attrition as Hunter and Akoon-Purcell fouled out in the closing minutes. To cap off the night, Sterling Gibbs sprinted to the free throw line to drill his 39th and 40th points to seal the game and tie the Paradise Jam's single-game scoring record.