Seton Hall escaped a relentless Mercer team with an 80-77 victory in overtime.
“I take it that it was 65-63, we were down by two late in the game and we found a way to win,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “That is a good basketball team. I think that’s the best basketball team we’ve played all year.”
Trailing the Bears by two points with three minutes left in regulation, a timeout was called before sophomore Fuquan Edwin sank both of his foul shots to tie the game at 65.
With the crowd shouting “defense” and the small yet strong student section on its feet, the Pirates created turnovers for Mercer but couldn’t convert from the foul line.
And it was the players that head coach Kevin Willard wouldn’t expect it from, like senior Jordan Theodore and freshman Aaron Crosby, two of the team’s best shooters.
As the last few seconds on the clock dwindled, Bears’ senior forward Justin Cecil sank a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game and force overtime.
“They told us they wanted us, but everybody was saying that,” senior Herb Pope said. “Coach said that we just had to execute more.”
In overtime, Pope scored the first basket on a put back, two of his game-high 24 points, before Cosby made a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down.
Pope would later make a nifty up and under move to put the Pirates up 77-71 with one minute remaining.
But the Bears clawed their way back to within two points by making two consecutive 3-pointers with 43 seconds left on the clock.
“We knew if we came in here and gave us the three we would be in for a long night and we have to give them a lot of credit,” Willard said. “They’re a good basketball team and they made shots.”
As the last eight seconds ticked, Theodore drove to the left side of the lane, drawing a foul and converting on one of his two foul shots.
Mercer quickly pushed the ball up court to get one last shot, but junior Chris Smith’s 3-pointer rimmed in and out of the basket, sealing the three-point victory for Seton Hall.
Pope dominated the boards with 24 points and 17 rebounds while fellow senior Jordan Theodore dished out six assists and scored 16 points.
Edwin also added 15 points and eight steals, tying the school records for most steals in a game.
Seton Hall is 9-1 with seven of its wins at home. Before entering Big East play, the Pirates face strong competition on the road.
“We have two big games ahead of us,” Willard said. “If we can learn how to win on the road, I’ll be really happy. Getting wins on the road is really important for numerous reasons.
We have two big tests coming out of this trip. Dayton is one of the toughest places to play in college basketball and going to Longwood is going to be like playing in Walsh. It will definitely get us prepared for the Big East schedule.”
Krissy Wrobel can be reached at email@example.com.