The Seton Hall Pirates fell to the Providence Friars, 80-74, in the semi-final round of the Big East Tournament on Friday evening at the Garden. With the loss, the Pirates finish their 2013-14 campaign at 17-17, 6-12 and await word on Sunday whether they'll receive an invitation to the NIT Tournament.
Both squads came out with plenty of intensity, showing little signs of tired legs from the previous night, or in Seton Hall's case, the last two. Playing for the third time in the last 36 hours, quick buckets from Eugene Teague and Fuquan Edwin gave Seton Hall an early 8-4 lead, but Providence would respond. The Friars made good on EIGHT consecutive field goals en route to a 12-0 run, while the Pirates went cold, scoreless for more than 5 minutes.
Coming out of the under-12 media timeout, the Pirates began to show serious signs of fatigue as they left Tyler Harris all alone, without a man within 20 feet, camped out on the perimeter. Trailing 25-14, things couldn't look any bleaker for Seton Hall and then, Gene Teague picked up his 2nd personal foul with 9:47 on the clock. After three turnovers and five missed jumpers, Brian Oliver's 3-pointer from the wing managed to stop the bleeding, momentarily. Unfortunately, the triple did little to spark any flow for the offense as Seton Hall would convert just two field goals over a ten minute stretch.
Despite falling behind by 11-points and with Teague seeing limited playing time, it wouldn't have been a surprise for Providence pile on and build an insurmountable lead at halftime. This resilient senior-led bunch had other plans. Kevin Willard was forced to dangerously insert Teague with his two fouls and 5 minutes left in the half, choosing to go down with his center whose tough play has carried them thus far. Willard's decision paid of remarkably as Teague avoided further foul trouble, moved bodies around the paint and added 6 points in two minutes.
A coast-to-coast finish from Sterling Gibbs pulled Seton Hall to within 4-points with a minute and a half to go, breathing life back into the Pirate faithful at MSG. With the Pirates needing a stop, Bryce Cotton drilled a pull up jumper from long distance, which appeared to be enough for the Friars to retain their momentum heading into the half. In the last Providence possession of the half, LaDontae Henton attempted a 3-pointer which would have stretched the lead to double digits at the break. However, his attempt rimmed out, Gibbs raced into the front court and found Brian Oliver for a contested corner three which cut the Friars lead to just four.
It only took 13 seconds for Gene Teague to pick up his 3rd personal foul. Willard once again was forced to roll the dice and left his big on the floor for the next two minutes. When Aaron Geramipoor entered the game for Teague, he contributed instantly on both ends of the floor. Defensively, the senior showed strong interior defense, with arms straight up, altered two shots from both Henton and Harris. On the other end, Geramipoor received a feed in traffic from Patrik Auda that he finished and on the next possession drew a shooting foul and sank both free throws. Huge minutes from Geramipoor.
Sterling Gibbs' 3-pointer at 13:27 closed the gap to a single point, the closest they had found themselves since 15-14, in the game's early minutes and sadly, it was the closest they would come again. As they had all night long, the Providence Friars would answer. This time, they ripped off 10-2 run in just 2 minutes, putting Seton Hall in serious danger. The Pirates had one mini-run left in them, keeping things close until the 8:17 mark, when LaDontae Henton hit consecutive wide-open triples. Fatigue had set in and Seton Hall's legs were understandably lacking a bit of life. Don't get me wrong, despite exhaustion setting in, there was no quit in the Pirates tonight. They managed to create turnovers and continued to challenge the Friars inside, drawing fouls and getting to the stripe. In the end, Seton Hall fought hard for 120 minutes of Big East Tournament action. Tonight, they simply ran into a fresher team that had their way from downtown (9-of-19) and on the glass, sending the Pirates home just shy of a conference championship appearance.
Just six days ago when Seton Hall lost their regular season finale at Butler, I wrote that another disappointing season had come to a close. While it's impossible to overlook the low moments this season featured, I'd be remiss not to acknowledge the exciting March basketball this team delivered to a starving fan base. While the fans have long had one eye on the incoming recruiting class, and one foot out the Prudential center, attendance-wise, it's been an exciting 3-days, something not a single fan could deny. For the first time in years, the Pirates played relevant basketball in Mid-March and gave us a highlight in this tournament that will never be forgotten in the program's history.
It goes without saying, but we're all going to miss watching Seton Hall's all-time steals leader play the game. Fuquan Edwin didn't want his career to end so badly that he was fighting for one last steal, down 7, with just seconds on the game clock, nearly sparking an improbable comeback attempt. That sequence tells you everything you'd ever want to know about Edwin, a kid willing to give his all, at all times, regardless of how bleak a situation appears. A Pirate that all of us are proud of and will be rooting for come June.
Seton Hall now awaits the NIT selection show on Sunday (ESPNU) at 8:30PM, to see whether they have done enough to receive an invite to the postseason tournament.