One game away from playing in their first Big East title game since 1993, Seton Hall played a tough game against a drilled Providence Friar team that was determined to solidify their spot in the NCAA tournament and in the conference championship game.
A gassed and foul-plagued Gene Teague (11 pts, 6 rebs) banged in the paint, Brian Oliver (9 pts, 5 rebs) sunk a necessary triple just prior to the halftime break, Fuquan Edwin bounced back from two tough offensive outings prior to score 20, and Aaron Geramipoor (4 pts) infused offense for what looks to be the final time, but the seniors' effort couldn't push Seton Hall over the Providence hill, falling short 80-74 on Friday night.
"We just got to give credit when credit is due. Providence played a great game; had a good game," reflected senior captain Fuquan Edwin post-game. "They hit some tough shots. You know [Bryce] Cotton, he led his team. He handled the pressure we was throwing at him. Just tough when we couldn't get over the hump and make some tough shots. But games go like that sometimes."
Edwin's 20 points led the team and was second to only the cold-blooded LaDontae Henton (26 pts, 14 rebs) on the night. After the game, Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard answered a question directed at Edwin about if his thumb that he sustained at DePaul on February 25th was still bothering him.
"Yeah, it has. I'll answer that for him. It has. He's battling through it. It's supposed to be taped up. He doesn't have the tape on it because of the feel of the ball. So he's battled over the last four days, four games with a very sore thumb," said Willard. "I asked him to take the tape off, not for the shooting, but he was having trouble catching it with the tape on. He did what he had to do for the program and for the team."
Edwin's gutsy effort was matched by his fellow seniors as well as those who will return next season, but it was Providence's dedication to an active zone defense that ultimately did Seton Hall in. The Pirates failed to knock down their outside shots (6-23) and it hurt them on a night where their offensive rebounding, foul shooting, and other parts of their game were up to par during their third game in three days.
"We haven't seen zone -- I was trying to think of the last time we saw zone," admitted Willard. "That's where this league has changed so much. You used to see zone every other game. I don't think we've seen zone since Georgetown, and they played only two or three possessions. I knew that he does that to give Cotton some much needed rest, but we just hadn't gone against it. We went over some stuff this morning, but it's probably not enough to really attack it effectively. It was active. They did a good job in it."
When Seton Hall did see success consistently on the offensive end, they chipped away at Providence's lead, bringing the deficit to four on a Brian Oliver three at the halftime buzzer and one at 46-45 just prior to the under-12 timeout. A resilient Providence team, specifically LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris (17 pts, 3-4 3pt), answered Seton Hall's surges every time.
"[We] Showed our poise," said Providence boss Ed Cooley. "These kids have played a lot of games. They've played a lot of minutes. So I thought our experience really showed down the stretch. I don't think we got rattled. I think they cut it to four or five a couple of times, maybe closer than that."
Perhaps the most crucial sequence of the game came at the 46-45 mark, it was the closest Seton Hall would come to retaking the 12-11 lead they held early in the first half. After a made Sterling Gibbs (13 pts, 6 asts) triple, Tyler Harris made one of many clutch shots on the night to extend Providence's lead back to three. Gene Teague then missed a sure layup on the Pirates' next trip up the court which was answered by a Henton three-pointer that put the Friars back up by six. It was that close for Seton Hall for most of the night.
Now, Seton Hall will have to pray for a bid to the NIT tomorrow night, but in all likelihood, we've seen the last of Fuquan Edwin, Gene Teague, Aaron Geramipoor, and Brian Oliver. Kevin Willard stated post-game that Seton Hall will not accept a CBI bid should they fail to be selected for the NIT.
"No, we won't consider the other tournaments," said Willard last night. "He's [Fuquan Edwin] got to heal up. Eugene, again, needs rest. Patrik [Auda] has to get shut down. The only older guy that's probably not battling anything is Brian [Oliver] right now. Brandon [Mobley], he -- I'm not going to risk something, one of these guys for one of those. They're good tournaments. They're well run, but right now with my seniors where they are, getting him healthy is my most -- my number one, and getting Eugene kind of ready for his next stage is probably most important."
While the seniors likely won't get to suit up again for the Hall, Willard made sure that it was known to them and us, that they've built something over the last two seasons in South Orange and last few days at Madison Square Garden will make an impact going forward.
"I told the seniors that. I told the team that. These guys, unfortunately, their win-loss record hasn't been phenomenal, but over the last two years, they've provided a solid foundation for us to build on the future. It's hard -- young guys don't -- can't see what they've helped build, but these guys have really, through their hard work, grades, everything, helping recruiting. These guys have been instrumental in helping us go from a very unstable situation to a pretty stable situation."
But with the bright future half of a year away, it's still time to reflect on the careers Seton Hall's seniors have had.
"I'm very sad. I wish we could have pulled through with the win," yearned Fuquan Edwin on Friday night. "It would have been good playing in the championship game. I just want to give credit to our effort. I think we battled hard."
"I think every time you're done playing, you always have seniors whose careers are over," reflected Kevin Willard. "No, actually, this was kind of maybe a different feeling. When you take over a program, you always have -- I got close to Herbie [Herb Pope] because of what happened to Herb, and I got close to Jordan [Theodore], but all the other seniors come and go when you first take over a program. So you don't have such a connection with the guys that first came in.
"These guys, Eugene and Brian, have been here for three years. Fuquan's been here for four. Aaron's been here for four. So it's a little different feeling for me because I have a little different connection with these guys. Not that I don't have a good connection with the other guys.
"But when you spend time and you see these guys grow, not only as players but as men, it's a little different feeling. I can't explain the feeling. I don't know if it's a proud feeling, a sad feeling. It's just a much different feeling than when you take over a program."