Men aim to make statement on the road against Georgia
Seton Hall Athletics
The final chance in non-conference play for the Seton Hall men's basketball team to make a statement arrives on Sunday night for the Pirates when they battle the Georgia Bulldogs.
In what will be the first meeting between the two programs ever, The Hall is riding momentum after an 89-69 rout past USF on Thursday night. The Bulldogs, however, will come well-rested after a final exams break. The last time Georgia (5-3) played, Mark Fox's team pulled out a statement-making win over PAC 12 foe Colorado, 64-57.
The Bulldogs have won two in a row, but their recent success comes after Georgia dropped its two games to #8 Gonzaga and Minnesota in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Garnering votes in the last three AP Top-25 polls, Seton Hall (9-1) is looking to stay near the rankings.
""A lot of people expected us to do a lot worse than what we've done," junior guard Sterling Gibbs said. "We've loved proving them wrong."
Gibbs has shot 50 percent from the field, but it's his improvement beyond the three-point arc that has made a significant difference in his game. The Big East Weekly Honor Roll selection is averaging 16.6 points per game and his 55-percent mark from deep tops the conference and is one of the best marks in the country.
The Pirates have used their young talent to their advantage, as a balanced attack has caused several defenses problems. That balance was on hand Thursday, when SHU had five scorers in double-figures.
Big East Rookie of the Week Isaiah Whitehead looks to continue a strong campaign. The freshman is averaging 12.6 points per contest after scoring 10 on Thursday. Whitehead's 36 assists lead the team in distribution, as the freshman has been able to pass the ball off when drawing attention.
Both Gibbs and Whitehead will face challenge of defending the lengthy Georgia back-court that is powered by 6-5 junior Charles Mann at the wing. Mann is putting up 11.7 points and 3.7 boards per game, and has joined sophomore Juwan Parker (7.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg) at the opposite wing. The biggest question entering Sunday night is the status of point guard Kenny Gaines. The 6-foot-3 junior sprained his right shoulder on Dec. 7 int the win over Colorado. "I would say I think he will play," Fox told the Athens Banner Herald's Marc Weiszer. There is still nothing definite about Gaines' status. Expect to see J.J. Frazier in his spot if Gaines does not give it a go.
While UGA may have a change, SHU's starting line-up is expected to stay the same as it has for the first 10 games of the season.
"Having the same line-up has put chemistry in an area that it never was in last season," Mobley said. "It's been especially important for a young team to just have the same starters out there. And as a result, our bench rotation has been on point.?"
The Pirates' bench scored 29 in the victory over USF on Thursday, which is tied for the second-most that the team has scored in a game this season.
The difference maker could come on the perimeter, as the Pirates look to stay hot down South. On Thursday, the team hit 11 triples from the field. A Georgia team that has had a two-week layoff currently sits at 32 percent from deep, while The Hall is at nearly 42 percent, leading the Big East.
"Georgia's pace reminds us of Saint Peter's in the way that they deliberately go about their pace," Gibbs said.
The Bulldogs and Pirates are averaging 12.3 and 13.4 turnovers respectively, and are keeping opponents within the same range. While Georgia is not a team that gets up and down the floor, their 74.6 points per game is the most that the program has averaged under Fox.
In the paint, the Pirates have the challenge of defending a duo that, if successful, could become a problem for SHU's inexperienced frontcourt. Georgia's frontcourt pair of seniors Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic is combining for over 25 points and nearly 13 boards for contest. The Pirates will attempt to counter with senior Brandon Mobley and freshman Angel Delgado, who was the key to SHU's performance on Thursday night.
"Working the pick-and-roll has been huge for our frontcourt," Mobley said. "Our success down low comes down to how we space the floor. If Angel's in the paint, and I'm outside for a potential look from deep, it keeps defenses guessing."
Delgado shot 6-of-7 from the field, scoring 16 and recording six rebounds in just 24 minutes in the drubbing past USF. Thornton has been dangerous to go off thus far this season, with three separate games in which he surpassed his previous career highs.
"We know that if we want to get a successful result, we need to push the tempo and play Seton Hall basketball," Mobley said.
While there is no history between the two teams, Willard is 2-2 as the head coach of the Pirates against SEC competition, with wins over Alabama and Auburn and losses to Arkansas and LSU.
The impact that this match-up can have on both teams is big, with the Pirates currently 37th and the Bulldogs 41st.
"To be able to go to 10-1 going into the Christmas break would be big," Gibbs said. "Being on the road makes it even bigger. We know that Sunday is another chance for us to show that we are capable of big things."
?John Fanta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @John_Fanta.