The basketball gods have never been on Seton Hall’s side when it comes to games against opponents that stand in the top three in the nation. Until Thursday.
With 3.7 seconds left, sophomore point guard Sterling Gibbs took the ball at the top of the key. He called the situation a "scramble," until he pulled up right in front of the three-point arc and knocked down a shot that broke the streak of 30 straight losses to top-three opponents for a 64-63 win.
"After all we’ve been through, this is just so rewarding," Seton Hall’s Eugene Teague said of the Pirates, who went to 17-16 overall in a season that has had its injuries and suspensions.
The game-winner was part of a wild minute that featured four lead changes. With 44 seconds left, a steal by Wildcats point guard Ryan Arcidiacono from Patrik Auda turned into an easy lay-in by Josh Hart to give Villanova a 61-59 lead. While the Pirates’ seniors led them to a 51-50 win over Butler in Big East 1st Round action on Wednesday, Kevin Willard’s young guards stepped up in the clutch Thursday.
Gibbs drove and found freshman Jaren Sina in the corner for a trey to retake the lead. 'Nova responded with a jumper from Darrun Hilliard with just seven seconds left, leading to the thrilling finish.
It was all Seton Hall early. Deadlocked at an early 9-9 tie at the first media timeout, it would not stay that way for long. Patrik Auda scored five straight with a lay-in and a trey from the right wing to make it a five-point game. That was just the beginning of a 12-2 run for Seton Hall.
"We stressed perimeter defense more than anything, and the physical play was an early sign that we weren’t letting up," Gibbs said.
The Pirates led by as many as 15 at the half and took in an eight-point lead, although the Wildcats closed on a 6-0 run.
The second half would feature a 16-0 run by Villanova beginning with just over 13 minutes to go in regulation. After the Wildcats took a 47-44 lead, a three by Edwin with 6:57 left tied the game up again followed by an old fashioned three-point play by Teague.
"With this adrenaline, we won’t be tired tomorrow," Auda said as the Pirates ready for a tilt with a fellow BIG EAST original, Providence, at 7 p.m. in The Hall’s first semifinal round appearance since 2001.