Amanda Boyer/Photography Editor
The Seton Hall men’s basketball team opened conference play on Wednesday with a statement, defeating No.-15 St. John’s 78-67 to improve to 11-2 on the season and 1-0 in the Big East.
The Pirates, led by Sterling Gibbs, who had 25 points and went 7-for-13 from the field took on a ranked opponent for the first time since falling at Wichita State 77-68 on Dec. 9. Early on, the Pirates seemed to follow the same script as Wichita, trailing by five, the Hall was constantly playing catch up. Every time the Hall managed to draw even, the Red Storm, led by senior D’Angelo Harrison’s 25 points, would find a way to regain the lead.
Then, with 56 seconds left in the first half, the pair of junior guards in Jarren Sina and Gibbs hit back-to-back three-point buckets to put the Hall up 40-35. The three-pointer by Sina was his first of the day, but would not be his first, going 4-for-8 in that department and finishing with 14 points to match a season-high.
Sina and the Pirates picked up right where they left off in the second half as senior forward Brandon Mobley opened the half with a jumper to extend the lead, the forward went 4-for-9 from the field, finishing with 13 points. Seton Hall would continue adding to their lead built late in the first half, but St. John’s continued digging into the lead. Even after trailing 58-44 with under 10 minutes to go in the second half, the Red Storm continued to respond, eventually cutting the Hall’s lead to just three points with 5:21 to go and an unsettling 65-62 lead for the blue and white.
A three-point shot by Gibbs coupled with Mobley going 4-for-4 from the line in the final four minutes of the half gave the Pirates control of the game and the team’s biggest win, from a momentum standpoint this season.
One factor that may have made the team’s win in the opening conference match up in the Big East all the more impressive was that they did so without freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead, as the McDonald’s All-American missed his second game sidelined by a stress fracture in his right foot.
Helping shovel the loss of Whitehead was fellow freshman guard Khadeen Carrington who came off the bench, playing a season-high 29 minutes, despite going down in the second half after catching a knee where to his lower body. He would exit briefly with assistance, but returned to score 11 points, seven of which came from free throws where he went 7-for-8.
Rounding out Seton Hall was freshman Angel Delgado, who had 9 points and a led all players with 12 rebounds and freshman Desi Rodriguez who had a pair of rebounds, steals and points to in 11 minutes of playing time.
Head coach Kevin Willard said he was proud of the team’s ability to “settle down” when the lead was only three.
“I was really proud of the way they settled everybody down,” Willard said.
One player who has emerged as that veteran group to settle everybody down is Sterling Gibbs, though tonight it was St. John’s inability to settle down Gibbs that helped Seton Hall pick up the W, and praise from his coach.
“I think Sterling is playing at a level that I envisioned him playing at all the time,” Willard said. “He’s (Gibbs) worked as hard as anybody this summer, as hard as anybody all year long. He’s receiving what he’s worked for. He’s not doing anything different, he’s just working extremely hard.”
While the win is the first this season over a ranked opponent, Willard said he doesn’t focus about rankings.
“Our team is just focusing on us,” he said. “We get ranked—great, we don’t—we got to continue to work hard. We never really worry about what other people are ranked.”
Another area Willard commended was attendance, which he said has been “tremendous” this season.
“The crowd has really been engaged and helped us a lot,” he said. “We’ve actually played very well at home.”
Gibbs too believes he’s working hard and that is helping pay off in moments like this.
“I worked hard in the off-season, I worked really hard actually,” Gibbs said. “I think it’s paying off.”
For the Red Storm D’Angelo Harrison fouled out late in the second half, but had an impressive afternoon offensively scoring 25 points and adding four rebounds. St. John’s guard Phil Greene IV had a strong offensive showing as well scoring 15 points.
Despite a 25-point night for Harrison, the team overall struggled after leading the Pirates through most of the first half. When asked if his team was mentally right, he said that you could tell they weren’t.
“We didn’t execute our game plan,” Harrison said.
One player held quiet for St. John’s was Sir’Dominic Pointer. The senior guard was held to just four points in the opening game of conference play, a season-low.
The loss for St. John’s is the first since Nov. 28 when the Red Storm fell at home to No.7 Gonzaga 73-66.
St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin commended Seton Hall and offensive standout Gibbs on the performance.
“I thought Seton Hall played an excellent game,” Lavin said. “Sterling Gibbs played one of the better performances any player has had against St. John’s in recent years.”
The Pirates will look to carry some momentum from the victory on Wednesday, Jan. 3 when the No. 6 Villanova Wildcats (13-0) enter Prudential Center at 12 p.m. in what is expected to be a sell-out crowd.
Neal McHale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @nealmchale