We battled hard’
The men’s basketball team’s run for a Big East Championship came to a halt on Friday night, as the eighth-seeded Pirates fell to the fourth-seeded Providence Friars, 80-74.
“I wish we could have pulled through with the win,” senior co-captain Fuquan Edwin said. “It would have been good playing in the championship game. I just wanted to give credit to our effort. I think we battled hard.”
Providence advanced the next night to defeat second-seed Creighton to win the Big East Tournament Championship and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament.
But for the Hall, the season ends on a high note despite the loss to the Friars in the semifinal round. For the first time since 2001, the Pirates made it to the semifinal round of the tournament behind strong performances from upperclassmen.
Senior co-captain Eugene Teague, who battled the flu during the tournament, earned a spot on the All-Tournament team for his play down low, becoming the first Pirate named to the squad since Eddie Griffin in 2001.
The 6-foot-9-inch, 270-pound center averaged 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds, including two double-doubles in three games.
His best performance in the tournament came on the second day, when the Pirates beat top-seeded, then-No. 3 Villanova at the buzzer.
Teague finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds and his play was noticed by sophomore Sterling Gibbs, the man who hit the step Gibbs also credited junior Patrik Auda, as the frontcourt duo helped lift the Pirates to an early lead.
“I think you should give (Auda) and (Teague) a lot more credit than me,” Gibbs said. “I just hit one shot, and they hit a whole lot more shots than I did. They kept us in the game.”
The win received recognition from many sports media outlets, including Bleacher Report and Deadspin, Gibbs’ buzzer beater was No. 2 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
This wouldn’t have been possible if the Pirates didn’t beat ninth-seeded Butler in the opening round last Wednesday, a team they lost to twice this season, including just four days earlier by a score of 71-54.
Head coach Kevin Willard said getting past Butler would give the team more confidence moving ahead in the tournament because of the matchup problems.
“I really thought if we could get past Butler, we could beat anybody,” Willard said after defeating Villanova. “I was really scared about getting past Butler. It’s a tough matchup for us. They defend really well on us, and I thought if we could get past them we could get some momentum and just keep going.”
Momentum was often difficult to build for the Pirates during the season as players missed a combined 21 games due to injury. This forced the Hall to play games at less than full strength.
Edwin, Gibbs, Teague and Auda, four of the top-five scorers for the team, missed 17 games to injury.
That’s not including two games senior Brian Oliver missed due to a coach’s decision, Teague’s one-game suspension (along with Oliver against St. John’s in February) and Sterling Gibbs’ one-game suspension for a trip to Creighton on Feb. 23.
That’s a total of 21 games missed by the five top scorers due to injuries or suspensions during the season.
The Hall also lost two backcourt pieces in early December.
Sophomore point guard Tom Maayan returned to Israel to fulfill a military commitment and junior Hakeem Harris decided to transfer out of the program. Despite being left shorthanded and distracted, the Hall continued to battle. Willard said that even others took notice of the Pirates’ fight.
“One of the referees told me the other night, he said he’s never seen a team go through what we’ve gone through and still come back and play hard every night,” Willard said after defeating Villanova. “I just think it’s the character of these guys. They showed up every night. They showed up, for the most part, every practice. And they’ve played extremely hard.”
The Pirates finished the reguar season below .500 for the second straight year (15-16, 6-12 Big East). However, the Hall defeated two teams during the regular season that made the NCAA Tournament.
In the conference opener on New Year’s Eve, the Hall defeated eleventh-seeded Providence, 82- 81 in double overtime and bested twelfth-seeded Xavier twice: a 68- 60 road win on Feb.1 and a 71-62 victory at home.
As mentioned above, the Pirates also downed a two-seed Villanova in the Big East tournament, giving the team three wins over tournament teams, showing it was capable of competing against top programs.
A major issue for the Pirates this season was close games.
The team played in nine games decided by one point, going 4-5 in those games.
“It takes a lot out of you,” Willard said about losing one-point games.
Excluding the two one-point wins in the Big East tournament, the Hall was only 2-5 in games decided by one point during the regular season. In overtime games, the Pirates were 1-2.
The upperclassmen, especially the seniors, really sparked the run in the Big East Tournament, but with no postseason tournaments in which to play, the four seniors will graduate in May.
“These guys, unfortunately, their win-loss record hasn’t been phenomenal, but over the last two years, they’ve provided a solid foundation for us to build on the future,” Willard said about his senior’s after their last game against Providence. “These guys have been instrumental in helping us go from a very unstable situation to a pretty stable situation.”
Teague and Oliver have been with the program for three years including their redshirt season in 2011-12, and Edwin and Aaron Geramipoor have been with Willard all four years.
Despite the graduations, the program will be in good hands.
Auda will enter his fifth year with the program having received a medical redshirt for last season after breaking his foot.
Mobley will enter his senior year, Gibbs will enter his junior year and his third with the pro- gram after sitting out 2012-13 due to transfer regulations and sophomore Jaren Sina, who was named to the All-Big East Rookie Team, will enter his second year with momentum after improved play during the conference slate.
Also, the Hall will have a consensus top-10 recruiting class highlighted by McDonald’s All American and Mr. New York Basketball Isaiah Whitehead. Things appear to be looking up for the world of Seton Hall basketball.
T.J. Brennan can be reached at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org.