Seton Hall shocked the college basketball world, and didn’t even need its best

Kenneth Cook/Staff Photographer

Kevin Willard was left with no choice just three minutes into action on Saturday. Starting forward Angel Delgado, who is tied at the top of the rebounding category in the Big East with 8.9 per game, had to exit with two fouls.

He ended up with four, committing two more early in the second half after sitting out the remainder of the first, only being available for 15 minutes. Starting forward Brandon Mobley fouled out in 30 minutes of action. Returning only 29 Division I minutes down low with the exception of Mobley, the Pirates had a hole to dig out of facing No. 6 Villanova. Seven players had two fouls at halftime.

The perimeter shooting wasn’t much better. The Pirates, averaging seven treys per game and one of the top teams in three-point shooting, shot just 2-of-15 from the field. The team allowed Villanova to shoot 35 free throws on Saturday.

Kenneth Cook/Staff Photographer

All that was against The Hall, and that’s discounting that the team was without second-leading scorer Isaiah Whitehead for a third straight game, who was out due to a stress fracture injury in his right foot.

But, Willard has gone through the highs and lows before. It was nothing new for him, and his team played like nothing fazed them, winning a stunner in overtime, 66-61.

The Pirates could not hit the three-ball, and they got killed on the glass by Daniel Ochefu and company. The Villanova center scored 19 points, but more importantly collected 24 rebounds.

While they only hit two treys, the most important bucket may have very well been a three, when Sterling Gibbs tied the game at 52 with just 6:21 to play in regulation. From that point on, the two teams were separated by no more than three points until there were seven seconds to play in overtime.

So what did this win come down to?

“Free-throw shooting and rebounding were the keys,” Desi Rodriguez, who ended up with six points and 11 rebounding, said. “We didn’t do a good job early but we found a way to get on the glass down the stretch.”

The Pirates shot 20-of-26 from the charity stripe. They came in shooting just over 60 percent on the season and are still a Big East-worst 64 percent from the line. The Pirates also outscored Villanova in the extra period, 4-0, in second-chance points.

It was not pretty. It wasn’t anything like the 10 three-pointers that the team hit in the first statement-maker win of the week, a 78-67 triumph past rival, No. 15 St. John’s in the team’s opening game of conference play on New Year’s Eve. But, it was a dog fight against a team in Villanova that was going for its best start in program history and was trying to give head coach Jay Wright his 300th win. Instead, they were handed their first loss of the season.

“We’re young, but being young is fun,” Gibbs said. “There’s no attitudes. Everyone wants to win.”

The fine line in college basketball between being in the Top 25 and missing out on it is indescribable. The Pirates did not have much going for them throughout a game on Saturday that was loaded with whistles and missed shots, yet still found a way to get the win, the second of two wins that, if the Pirates are without, would not be hopping into the poll on Monday. Yet, it’s the first week of January, and Seton Hall doesn’t need to be perfect to pull off the unthinkable. The Pirates have become a very legitimate contender in the conference.

John Fanta can be reached at john.fanta@student.shu.edu or on Twitter @John_Fanta.

Author: John Fanta

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