Kenneth Cook/Staff Photographer
Going into the season, the upcoming three-game stretch for the Seton Hall men’s basketball team was labeled as the toughest of the season.
Coming off three straight losses, the Pirates (15-9, 5-7) will aim to break away from recent struggles in Rhode Island when they take on the reigning Big East champion Providence Friars.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go through some of the hard times to get to the good times,” fifth-year head coach Kevin Willard said. “You’ve got to find some toughness.”
The Friars are powered by the Big East’s leading scorer and leader in assists. LaDontae Henton has paced Ed Cooley’s team with 20.4 points per game while guard Kris Dunn has been sensational in taking over the backcourt with 7.5 assists per contest. While the Friars have not shown quite a bit of depth, the emergence of Dunn after he missed last year due to an injury to his right shoulder has not gone unnoticed. With All-Big East First Team star Bryce Cotton’s departure, Dunn has answered the bell in the backcourt for the Friars.
If the Pirates are going to compete, they’re going to need to regain efficiency. In their last two games, Kevin Willard’s team has compiled 29 turnovers and 23 assists. The offense has gone flat for minutes on end at times. “I have a group of guys who all trying to do really good things and make plays,” Willard said. “It's just that they're getting a little dejected right now.”
In the paint, a bright spot continues to be Angel Delgado. The All-Big East Rookie of the Year candidate scored 15 points to go along with 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s loss to Georgetown, but took a Hoyas team that had a size advantage going in to the rim.
Beyond Delgado, the Pirates will look to stretch the floor with Brandon Mobley. The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. If The Hall goes man-to-man, it will be intriguing to see how Willard approaches guarding Henton, but it’s likely that with the match-ups that the 6-foot-6 Friar star plays, SHU could be going into a zone.
In the backcourt, the Pirates will aim to find a rhythm with the trio of Sterling Gibbs, Khadeen Carrington and Isaiah Whitehead. Gibbs has settled in after an insane start to conference play. The junior guard currently sits at 17.1 points and 3.8 assists per game, the only player in the Big East to be in the top five in both points and assists.
Whitehead has been up and down in four games since returning from a stress fracture injury in his foot. After scoring 19 points in a 90-82 win over Xavier on Jan. 31, the freshman has tallied 26 points in three games since then.
As for Carrington, the pressure is off the freshman, as he doesn’t have anybody around him in the rotation that can push his time off the floor with Jaren Sina’s departure from the program.
“Khadeen's struggles are not anything besides the fact that he's got to get used to different defenses and how they're attacking him and how they're playing him,” Willard said.
Right now, the Pirates need a 40-minute effort. They were able to come back from 20 down against Georgetown to tie the game up at 44 apiece on Tuesday, but the blue and white have not been able to sustain anything for 40 minutes.
“I've got to find some guys that are going to battle and figure it out,” Willard said. “Doing it on the road is not easy, but that's where were going to have to do it. I have great confidence in these guys. I think this team is capable of great things.”
The Pirates’ talent was there to produce a rise into the AP Top 25. Losers of seven of 10 and finding themselves on the bubble, The Hall, currently eighth in the Big East, finds itself in dire need of a win.
John Fanta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @John_Fanta.