Seton Hall and Villanova played, for the second consecutive game, an absolute thriller. We all remember "Stepback" Sterling Gibbs hitting the buzzer beater to defeat the number three Wildcats in the Big East Tournament a season ago. That must have been on the minds of many of these Villanova players as they traveled to Newark with revenge on the brain.
This was a Big East game that harkened back to the great 1980s battles with players diving on the floor or finding their way to the deck by intentional force. Freshman Angel Delgado certainly became acquainted with the floor by the end of this game. Delgado was kicked in the shin, knocked over and then stepped on by Josh Hart of Villanova, who would pick up a flagrant-one foul for the offense. Later on in the hotly contested game, Delgado would be unintentionally elbowed in the eye by a Wildcat player and still wanted to return to the game despite being helped to the sideline. He would return, with four fouls, later on in the second half and overtime.
The Pirates defense made big stops down the stretch, but many of the front court players had foul trouble early and often including Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Brandon Mobley. When Rashed Anthony and Chier Ajou came in to help bridge the gap, they were able to hold their own, especially Anthony. Coach Kevin Willard said after the game that Anthony saved the game in the first half for The Hall. Anthony did not fill up the stat sheet, but he did play 14 minutes and guarded the likes of JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu.
In overtime, the Pirates were able to make big plays late and show that they have the depth in addition to the talent to not only play with the best in the Big East, but to defeat the best that the conference has to offer.
· Seton Hall’s 17-3 run to open the contest was the perfect start, but foul trouble derailed it and Villanova answered with a 19-8 run of their own.
· The Pirates outscored Villanova 18-7 in points off of turnovers, which was vital in the victory. Seton Hall forced 15 turnovers against a veteran team that usually plays with great efficiency on offense.
· In front of 10,701 at The Prudential Center, Seton Hall thrived off the energy from the sold out crowd. The team would celebrate with the student section after the win and are now 8-0 at home this season.
· Another key was the free throw shooting. The Pirates made 20 of 26 from the charity stripe, which was a massive difference from the 20 of 35 from Villanova.
· The blue and white had trouble stopping Villanova big man Daniel Ochefu who finished with 19 points and 24 rebounds. Foul trouble in the frontcourt was certainly a factor.
· Seton Hall made only two of their fifteen attempts from behind the arc. It has been a long time since The Hall made so few three pointers, but still won the game.
· The Pirates held Villanova to just 31 percent shooting for the game, which is just incredible, again, considering the efficiency that the Wildcats usually show.
· Another statistic that went The Hall’s way was fast break scoring. The Pirates outscored the Wildcats 11-0 in that category and proved once more that they have the speed and athletes to thrive in transition.
· Sterling Gibbs has now scored 45 points in the last two games after his 20 point output on Saturday. The Big East Player of the Week is shooting 50 percent from downtown this season, which is off the charts.
· Freshman Angel Delgado was a warrior for his team and kept fighting through pain and foul trouble to finish the game with four points and six rebounds. After the game, Delgado told me with a smile that his entire body was hurting, but that everything was fine because his team had won. Remarkably, Delgado did not foul out of this game after reaching four fouls early in the second half. He showed poise and maturity in this game, which is impressive for a freshman.
· Khadeen Carrington had his best game as a collegiate player, finishing with 17 points on 9-10 shooting from the foul line. Carrington made big shots down the stretch in regulation and overtime. His drives to the basket were vital, especially after the Wildcats started doubling Gibbs. For his two performances this week, Carrington was named Big East Rookie of the Week.
· Brandon Mobley fouled out of this game with 10 points and six boards. At times Ochefu dominated Mobley on the block, but Brandon was able to make some big plays for the Pirates in this back and forth affair.
· On Saturday, Jaren Sina only scored four points, but made four big free throws including two to ice the game in overtime. Coach Willard revealed that Sina is calling many of the plays on offense now, which is showing the maturity and importance of Sina to this team even when he does not fill up the stat sheet.
· Toughness was shown by another freshman Desi Rodriguez. He finished with six points and 11 rebounds and displayed his rebounding acumen in addition to his ability to battle on the boards with anyone.
· For the second straight game Stephane Manga made the start for the Pirates, which was surprising, but literally The Hall had all hands on deck for this one because of the foul trouble. The France native finished with two points in just eight minutes. It seems that his role is to start the game to provide defensive experience and then Willard will bring Carrington off the bench to that much needed spark.
Wrapping it all up
Seton Hall has now beaten two consecutive ranked opponents for the first time since 2006 and two top-15 teams in a row for the first time since 1992. The Pirates get two huge wins at home and head on the road for two against Xavier and Creighton with a 2-0 conference record.
It is worth noting that the Pirates are still doing this without Isaiah Whitehead who will be reevaluated before the Xavier game on Jan. 7th and expects to play against Butler. When and if Whitehead returns it will be interesting to see how he fits back in, but for now the Pirates have a formula with Gibbs, Carrington and many others to win games.
For the Xavier game, the Pirates have to prove three things. The first is that they can win on the road because Seton Hall is just 1-2 this season in true road games. Secondly, that this was not a fluke. It is already, by many, not considered a fluke, but the Musketeers are a good team coming off a loss so it will be interesting to see if they can sustain this great play. The last thing is playing with recognition. When a ranked opponent goes on the road there is a target on their backs and for the first time since 2012 the Pirates will be ranked. The Hall are ranked 19th in the AP Poll this week, which is the highest since 2001. Can the Pirates play with the pressure on them as a ranked team? This team has used the preparation and lessons from their tough non-conference slate in order to play well in the Big East. With the way The Hall as played so far we can say that the Pirates can play with anyone they face.