In what will go down as one of the biggest wins in the history of Seton Hall's basketball program, the Pirates upset top-seeded and No. 3 ranked Villanova in an absolute thriller at Madison Square Garden this afternoon. The win was Seton Hall's first over a top-three opponent, their first back-to-back Big East wins since 2012, and just their fourth win in 17 tries against the Wildcats.
Channeling his inner Kemba Walker on what appeared (but wasn't) to be another broken play in a second half full of them, sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs drilled a game-winning two-ball with a foot on the the three-point line at the buzzer to knock off Villanova, a team that had beat Seton Hall twice this season by a combined 33 points. "That play was designed for Sterling Gibbs to go. We work on that shot every single day with our guards," said associate head coach Shaheen Holloway after the game.
But that's the ending of the fairytale story. Let's start from the beginning.
Much like their second round Big East Tournament matchup with Syracuse last year, Seton Hall came out flying against a top opponent on minimal rest, 15 hours between last night to tip-off to be exact. The Hall played great, inspired team basketball out of the gates and held a 19-11 lead at the under-12, nearly identical to their 19-14 lead over Syracuse at the same point a year prior. But unlike that game, where Seton Hall wilted early after their hot hand cooled off, the Pirates pushed forward by way of a dominant Patrik Auda (13 pts, 4 rebs) and Gene Teague (19 pts, 12 rebs) combo in the paint.
"Unbelievable," said Holloway of Teague's performance. "Gene didn't want to go home, Gene doesn't want his career to be over."
Auda and the flu-ridden Teague spearheaded a Seton Hall lead that ballooned to 15 (30-15) at the under-eight timeout due to a Pirate defense that was active, closed out on three-point shooters, and switched on defenders well. The upset-minded Pirates got away from their inside game late in the half and cashed in on just 2 of their last 11 possessions which allowed a 6-0 Villanova run to cut Seton Hall's lead to 34-26 at the break.
Getting back to their strength, Seton Hall fed Gene Teague for a quick interior bucket out of the break and they were off. Seton Hall pushed their lead back up to 12 points at the under-16 timeout and looked keen to play another day after surviving an early-half officiating surge. Along with a few incorrect calls, the officials ruled a double-flagrant after an intentional JayVaughn Pinkston elbow at Gene Teague's head resulted in Pinkston dramatically flopping to the ground after Teague and him locked arms.
Regardless, Seton Hall fended off the ‘Cats and clung to a double-digit lead, but the elephant in the arena was an impending Seton Hall collapse. Villanova was forced to take tough shots, but they also missed a few easy ones, along with free throws. A run was coming.
Did it ever.
Villanova responded to Seton Hall's 13-point lead with a hair-whitening, heart-palpitating 16-0 run that was sparked by four Seton Hall turnovers due to Nova's aggressive high ball pressure, three of which led to uncontested Wildcat layups. Everybody, including myself, diagnosed the Pirates as dead in the water.
But they still had a pulse.
Fuquan Edwin (7 pts, 3-15 fg), who had a poor offensive day, drilled a long triple that silenced Villanova's run, tied the game up, and sparked an 11-3 Seton Hall run capped off by a contested three-ball from Brandon Mobley (6 pts, 3 rebs). Trailing 58-57, Darrun Hilliard was called for an over-the-back on Gene Teague, who cooly sunk two free throws in a one-and-one situation. On Villanova's next possession, Teague picked up his fourth foul and was then lucky to avoid his fifth due to Sterling Gibbs reaching in just prior to Pinkston making contact with Teague on his way up to the tin. Pinkston, who struggled with free throws all afternoon (3-10), split his pair prior to an Auda turnover that resulted in a Josh Hart layup in transition that gave Villanova a 61-59 lead and what looked like the game at the time.
Seton Hall's young backcourt duo had other plans.
Jaren Sina (9 pts) splashed a clutch triple from the near corner on Seton Hall's next possession to regain the lead, but Darrun Hilliard scored an acrobatic floater in the lane coming out of a Jay Wright timeout seconds later to hand the lead back to Villanova for the last time on the day.
With just over three seconds left on the clock, Seton Hall drew up a play in their huddle that will forever go down in their history books as one of the biggest in school history.
Standing next to Kevin Willard on the sideline, Jaren Sina inbounded to Sterling Gibbs, who dribbled to his left attacking Darrun Hilliard. Usually a driver, Gibbs unexpectedly halted his attack, stepped back just within the arc and shot Villanova's hearts out.
Simultaneously etching his name in the hearts of Seton Hall basketball fans everywhere, forever.
"Wow," said Shaheen Holloway post-game while chuckling. "That's all I can say, wow. These kids played their hearts out."
Seton Hall (17-16, 6-12) advances to the Big East Semifinals for the first time since 2001 to play the winner of Providence and St. John's tomorrow night at 7.