A faux snow storm, the bruised thumb of senior captain Fuquan Edwin, and a surging Xavier team were no match for Seton Hall's senior class on their Night at Prudential Center as the Pirates controlled throughout a 71-62 win over the Musketeers.
"It's good to play well. It's good to do things at home that we haven't been able to do, for some reason we just haven't played overly well here. I don't know what it is, I think it's a bunch of things, but it's good to see us play well," said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard post-game on AM 970. "We needed to get a ‘W', [Providence] was really disappointing, I didn't think we played well. We had the same opportunities, Brian [Oliver] had some good looks in that game and he just didn't make them. I thought the guys came out with a very good attitude and they wanted to send their seniors out and the guys played well."
Pre-game, the attention was deservedly on five Seton Hall seniors, Kevin Lynch, Gene Teague, Brian Oliver, Aaron Geramipoor, and Fuquan Edwin. After the opening tip, it was Teague, Oliver, and Edwin that combined for 54 of Seton Hall's 71 points. Xavier was woeful against a matchup zone defense in the half court before and after starting center Matt Stainbrook went down with a serious left knee injury midway through the first half. The visitors were 3-22 from beyond the arc which when combined with their 2-14 total from the first meeting (5/36, 13.8%) is quite remarkable. "We got a little lucky in the second half, we left Myles Davis open, a Jersey kid who can really shoot it, and we left Justin Martin open a couple times," said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard post-game on AM 970. "But I thought we did a good job of setting the tone early."
At the half, Willard's squad allowed just 20 points from Xavier, who played the final eight minutes without Stainbrook. Leading 16-11 when Stainbrook was sidelined, Gene Teague (17 pts, 8 rebs) and Brian Oliver (20 pts, 5-10 3pt) single-handedly rattled off a 16-8 run that was carried into the halftime locker room. Oliver's resurgence did well to open up Xavier's defense when combined with the second straight game of a famished Teague on the interior. "Brian's been working hard to get his shot back for the last two weeks, he was really disappointed in the way he shot it, I thought he actually played pretty decently against Providence, but he just didn't shoot well ... I thought Jaren [Sina] did a great job of finding him twice in transition where Brian had a chance to get some easy shots. It's always tough when you have to come off screens, it's great when guys find him and Jaren did a great job finding him a couple times. It kind of got the momentum going really."
The momentum that Teague and Oliver started was followed up by Fuquan Edwin (17 points, 3 steals), who played through a bruised thumb and scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. "He really gutted through it," said Willard. "He's got a bad bruise on that thumb, he wanted to go out he wanted to play, showed a lot of heart today by coming out and playing. I told him before the game ‘Fu' you don't have to shoot threes, you're still going to end up getting 17 and 5, some way or another you're going to do, it's just the way you play.' It was really good to see him play well, move up past Sha' [in all-time scoring at Seton Hall]." Edwin (1,592 points) passed current associate head coach and former Pirate guard Shaheen Holloway to move into 13th place in Seton Hall scoring. Edwin requires 30 points to leap John Morton (1,621), who sits 12th in all-time scoring.
Seton Hall did well to stave off an early onslaught from Semaj Christon (28 pts) and then a late Xavier press that came close to rattling a Patrik Auda-less (sprained ankle) Seton Hall. Christon scored just four points in the first half before erupting for 24 in the second period including 19 of Xavier's first 22 points after the break. "Semaj really started to get going in the second half early and got in a rhythm, they made two really nice adjustments against the zone to get him free," observed Willard. The hosts countered Xavier's two most powerful surges (37-32; 17:01 and 60-54; 4:48) by pushing their lead back up to 10-plus points within two minutes, literally, each time. Seton Hall would not relinquish their lead despite some sloppy press-breaking in the closing minutes.
"It's great to see that your seniors, Eugene, Brian, Fuquan, and Aaron Geramipoor played terrific too. They played good defense in the first half that kind of kept things going. I thought everybody did a really good job, it's great to go out with a ‘W', it felt better just to play well," said a relieved Willard post-game.
The Senior Night win brought Seton Hall back up to .500 on the season (15-15, 6-11) and leaves the possibility of a 7-seed in the Big East Tournament if Georgetown loses out (Creighton, @ Villanova) and Seton Hall wins at Butler this Saturday. After losing against the Bulldogs in an attempt to get a league winning streaking started in January, a win at Hinkle Fieldhouse would mark the Hall's first Big East winning streak since February 2012.
In honor of Senior Night, here are some pre-game quotes from Kevin Willard on his seniors:
Walk-on guard Kevin Lynch: "Kevin's been a great story. He was a women's manager for two years, just a terrific young man. He's a walk-on that we don't usually get at Seton Hall, a kid that can actually play and help us in practice. He's been very beneficial for us this year, he's on the scout team, he does a lot of good stuff on there so he's been a terrific young man to have in our program."
Gene Teague, Brian Oliver: "I think they've had decent careers, I think their careers have really been marred by injuries ... They both have contributed really way and have helped us in many ways."
Aaron Geramipoor: "Aaron's terrific. I wish I could go back to that first year and redshirt him, he was only 18 and he came over from England - just turning 18, and he's really grown up a lot in the last four years. He has battled a lot of injuries too. This year with his ankle -- he never really got to go through a full year of being healthy."
"Its a group that we're going to miss, they've given us a lot and hopefully we can send them out on a good note."