Digging deep down inside themselves, Seton Hall gave it their all but came up just short in a 69-62 loss to Providence on Saturday afternoon in Rhode Island.
LaDontae Henton (22 pts, 9 rebs) and Kris Dunn (19 pts, 8 asts) were the one-two punch that the Friars needed while Isaiah Whitehead (20 pts, 6 TOs), Sterling Gibbs (12 pts, 3 asts) and Angel Delgado (8 pts, 15 rebs) led the charge for the Pirates.
Unlike poor starts in their last two games, Seton Hall got off on the front foot by way of senior reserve Stephane Manga (7 pts, 4 rebs), who scored four of the Hall's first five points after being given a start in place of Jaren Sina, who transferred mid-week. Kevin Willard also switched up his defensive approach from a matchup zone to a man-to-man look that looked a lot stronger when coupled with noticeably more effort when Providence had the ball.
"We really came out and we got after it. We defended and we did a lot of good things on the defensive end," said Kevin Willard post-game on 570 AM. "The rebounding killed us in the first half, we just couldn't grab one and get out and go. It's tough coming on the road after having to deal with a lot of B.S. over the last week. We came on the road to a packed house and I thought we did a good job of battling. Really proud of this team."
The Pirates were able to fight tooth and nail with their hosts despite a significant early rebounding margin for the Friars including more offensive rebounds than Seton Hall total rebounds (11-10) at one point in the first half. Down 26-23 with just over three to play in the half, Providence held the Hall to just two free throws and forced three turnovers over the remainder to expand their cushion to 32-25 at the break.
Insecure handling of the rock looked like it would mar Seton Hall's start to the second half too after coughing it up three times before the first media timeout but Providence was largely unable to capitalize during this span and in the game as a whole with just 14 points off 19 turnovers that primarily impacted the Pirates' offense this time around.
In an ugly affair that featured two teams shooting close to 30 percent for most of the game, Seton Hall didn't let Providence build a lead larger than nine unlike a handful of Big East games that have seen them get behind by large margins including Marquette and Georgetown recently.
For the most part, Willard's team featured a balanced scoring attack with six of Whitehead's 20 points coming off two late threes with the game all but decided. Providence did a good job of staying on Gibbs for the entire 40 minutes while Brandon Mobley (7 pts, 2 rebs) and Angel Delgado were stymied in the paint both from good Providence interior defense and errant feeding of the post.
At 48-47 with just under six minutes to play and Kris Dunn sidelined with four fouls, Seton Hall was able to claw to their first lead of the game since the score sat at 10-9 after Whitehead found Gibbs in transition for two of the Hall's six fast break points, but it was a big-time LaDontae Henton play that would ultimately turn the tide.
Looking like he was about to flush home a dunk that would have given Seton Hall a 50-49 lead, Delgado had the ball swatted from behind by Henton, who then drilled a three-pointer at the other end to cap off an instant five-point swing that gave Providence a lead they would never relinquish. The bang-bang pair of plays was fittingly in the middle of a 14-4 Friar run that flipped the score from 48-47 Seton Hall to 61-52, effectively sealing the game.
"The effort was unbelievable, the effort to come on the road was terrific and that's what I was looking for. I wanted to see what kind of character this team had and they came out and showed me a lot," said Willard. "I'm proud of these guys, they bounced back. It's been a tough couple days, a crazy couple days. I talked about it before the game, you have guys in there crying and getting upset that they're losing. If you don't have that, you have issues. That's when I think you have issues. Right now we have guys that are upset that we're losing, not happy that they're losing and to me that's a sign of a good locker room."
Seton Hall drops to 15-10 (5-8) and has now lost four in a row and seven of nine while Providence improves to 18-8 (8-5), snapping a two-game skid.