Seton Hall had their back against the proverbial wall last night and found a way to muster their first-ever victory at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, beating Marquette 80-70.
In ways, the game was a script reversal from the Pirates' game against Butler just a few days prior, especially when they rattled off their 22-3 game-defining run coming out of the halftime locker room.
For Marquette (10-10, 2-6), it was a chance to finally get over the hump of close losses, but instead they suffered their first loss in Big East play by a margin of more than six (not including overtime). Seton Hall (14-6, 4-4) was able to maintain the half-game distance between them and sixth-placed Xavier (5-4), who they host on Saturday.
Seton Hall's offense looked much better. This has to be the first thought, doesn't it? After a few early possessions and Jaren Sina knocking down a triple to get the Pirates started, I had a feeling this would be the game they exploded offensively and that they did. Most notably, it was their best points per possession efficiency (1.18) since Creighton and St. John's before that and their best assist to field goals made percentage (79%) since taking on the Red Storm on New Year's Eve.
Why was this the case? For me, two main reasons. First, Seton Hall's guards spaced themselves effectively on the perimeter early and often and shared the ball very well, especially Sterling Gibbs, who finished with ten assists. Extra passes, creating for others, quick ball movement - you name it. While there was significant improvement from Seton Hall, I think seeing a zone like Marquette's helped the struggling Pirates along a little bit.
Kevin Willard used a very short bench on Wednesday night. With Stephane Manga and Rashed Anthony sidelined with ankle sprains, Desi Rodriguez, Haralds Karlis and Chier Ajou logged a total of 24 minutes, but failed to score. Rodriguez was able to find an open Angel Delgado from the elbow with a very nice post-to-post pass and contributed in other ways, but it was primarily the five starters who did the damage last night. All five scored in double figures.
Jaren Sina and Khadeen Carrington were great early on. Sterling Gibbs had just five points at the half, but it was his five first half assists that were able to get his backcourt mates going. The haters won't want to hear it, but Sina had his best half in a long stretch of time and it came when Seton Hall looked like they were playing their brand of basketball. As for Carrington, he got off to hot shooting start and was able to get into the lane and find open teammates as seen by his five assists; Sina finished with six. All three guards were impressive and did exactly what they needed to do to get the win.
A fast start helped. I touched on this in my preview, but the Hall's fast start offensively definitely helped confidence-wise. They gave up four or five wide open threes in the early portion of the game, but Marquette failed to make them pay and as a result the tempo increased a little bit, to the visitors' benefit. Seton Hall scored on four of their first nine possessions and it could have been more if not for a missed lay up.
Opening statement on win: "We had two good days [in practice] after we got our butts kicked, just talking and understanding. What I told our guys was we played the best defensive team in the conference twice out of three games. We were up seven against DePaul and we let that one slip away. We are the still same team we were two weeks ago, it's only been three games in two weeks, it's not like everything changes, it's just the fact we were losing for the first time and how were we were going to react and how we were going to move forward. It's not easy when you're losing because it's easy to be negative, thats just the way it is. We just talked about being positive and staying positive and staying in our shell and in our world and not worrying about Twitter and not worrying about all the other stuff thats tough to do when you're losing. And just focusing on what we had done before the three-game losing streak. It wasn't rocket science and I'm really proud of the way the guys came out and got in a nice flow and everyone was looking for each other and we talked about getting to 18 assists and getting back to having 23 assists was terrific."
On if his short bench was planned: "It all depended on foul trouble. I have utmost confidence in Haralds [Karlis], I still think he's going to benefit us and come up with some big minutes but they're small and it was the first time we played against a team that was small and we could match up to them. Khadeen [Carrington] played a great job of playing the low spot in the zone which was a tough for him to transition to, but i knew without Rashed [Anthony], Chier [Ajou] hasn't played a lot but he went in there and I thought he gave a good two or three minutes. Second half I was just going to roll with the guys -- once we got up I wasn't going to let anything break that momentum that we had. We didn't handle that pressure overly well, but at the same time they look up and they're up 24 and they kind of relax a little bit. No matter what, each road split that we're on were trying to get splits, obviously you want a sweep but you want a split and it's great to get another split."
On Sterling Gibbs' big game: "I had a good talk with Sterl yesterday after practice, he was forcing a little bit in practice and I said ‘What are you doing kiddo?" He said, 'I'm trying to get my groove back.' I said, "Your grooves there, you're one of the best guards, you're playing like one of the best guards, you can't let one bad night think that you don't have your groove back you just need to relax. If you miss your first seven tomorrow night, make your next seven. Just keep stepping in and shooting.'
"He's playing too high a level for him to think about he needs to get his groove back or anything like that. I thought he a did great job 'cause he missed a couple early ones, he had some open looks early, and I thought he did a great job of just staying aggressive. Once he saw that first one go in in the second half, he wanted it, and when he gets in that rhythm and he's open it's going to go down."
On Khadeen Carrington's production: "When you miss your first four weeks, we've talked about it, you're delayed a little bit. He's that one guy right now that has that ability to get in the lane and make some tough shots, he had the floater. As he gets older and older and gets a little bit more physical and mature and understands angles better. Again thats why I've always thought at the end of his four years, he's a guy that's going to walk away and make a lot money in this game. He reminded me of the guy that played here [in Milwaukee]. Dwyane Wade redshirted cause of the knee, he was a four year guy in essence. He reminds me of that same type of body control, he's got to get a little bit stronger and that's maturity and growth."
On Jaren Sina turning things around: "Yeah it was, it was great. I talked with him about some deflections and doing some other things on the floor to get your mind off your shot. I thought Khadeen did a great job to get an open one for him on the break and when that one went in it was kind of a big exhale for him. He had a couple of good looks in the second half, that you know, he's got to continue to stay confident with the shot. He's in that mode where he misses one and he turns it over he gets a little down on himself - everyones turning it over. You've got to understand, usually when you turn it over, it's cause all four guys turned it over. Good to see him and I thought Angel [Delgado] did a really good job and i thought Brandon [Mobley], kind of his first five minutes were uninspired and once he kind of got going he really helped us. he got some big rebounds, hit a big shot and did what we need him to do."
On shutting down Luke Fischer and the defensive effort: "We've played man-to-man for most of the whole year [they showed zone last night]. Once we get Isaiah back in the rotation we'll probably go back to playing more man-to-man, not only does he give you a great dimension on offense but he just helps your rotation with those guys a little bit. I made the decision after the Butler game, I can't have Sterling chasing guys off screens when i need him to score 20 points. I talked with him about it, he's doing a great job and I think he's proving himself to be a very high level defender. I need him to make some shots and I can't tire him out. He can hide a little bit in our zone, our zone is more man-to-man, but he can hide a little bit. These guys made a good adjustment and I thought our press really slowed them down a little bit. We didn't get anything out of it, but it made them work. Extremely proud of these guys, in the face of adversity they found a way."