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Gibbs needs help with Whitehead still out

Every team has its lows. For a young Seton Hall men’s basketball team, the recruiting class has gone beyond living up to the hype but as expected, there are growing pains involved. When the freshmen have needed somebody to step up, it’s been Sterling Gibbs this season. But, the Pirates are finding out that the junior guard cannot do it all himself.

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Since the 2:08 mark in overtime against Butler on Jan. 13, Seton Hall has seen its over-reliance on Gibbs in full effect. It was then that the Pirates’ leading scorer (16.3 points per game, 3rd in Big East) Gibbs fouled out of the game after hitting a three to cut Butler’s lead to 71-70.

The Pirates were only able to score once before there were six seconds left in the game, leading them to a 79-75 loss.

That was only the beginning of what has been an offensive slump for SHU. A team that was averaging over 70 points per contest before Big East play began is now at 66 points in league play. Gibbs has shot a combined 6-for-27 in his last two contests, combining for just 18 points.

While Gibbs has not been up to speed from where he was in the first weeks of league play, he has not received much assistance.

“At times, we’re getting too reliant on Sterling (Gibbs) to bail us out,” fifth-year head coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s playing at such a high level. The next step for him is to be able to realize that when he doesn’t have his shot, that he has to be able to do other things for us.”

Sophomore guard Jaren Sina has compiled just eight points on the three-game slide. An All-Big East Rookie Team Selection a season ago, Sina is critical if the Pirates are going to have success. 27 of Sina’s 29 three-pointers have come in wins. He’s getting open looks, especially since Gibbs is getting double-teamed when he tries to start anything offensively. Teams are locking in on the junior especially on the screen-and-roll. And when Sina is getting a shot opportunity, he has not been able to really get much going, shooting a combined 3-for-21.

“Offensively as a whole, we just haven’t been playing well,” Willard said.

Khadeen Carrington has had his fair share of bright moments this season, but like all freshmen, he’s just going through the same kinds of rough times right now. The freshman’s recent slump also began on Jan. 13 against Butler when he fouled out in the final minutes of regulation after recording three fouls in not even as many minutes. Carrington has shot a combined 4-for-15 in the Hall’s last two games, while also dealing with an ankle injury that Willard says was giving him issues on Sunday.

“It’s a learning process for Jaren (Sina) and Khadeen (Carrington) right now,” Willard said. “At times we’re too passive, and at times we’re too aggressive. If our guys are open, they’ve got to shoot it. And at that point, it just comes down to making a play.”

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While Gibbs has stepped up his game during conference play, teams have stepped up in the way they’re playing him. The offense is missing a game-changer in Isaiah Whitehead.

Let me repeat a portion of that statement.

The offense is missing a game-changer.

Whitehead’s scoring presence is documented. Before announcing that he had a stress fracture injury in his right foot five weeks ago, Whitehead was averaging 11.9 points per game, sitting just outside of the top ten in scoring in the conference. But it’s his ability to create for his fellow teammates that the Pirates are lacking right now especially.

Whitehead leads the team with a 30 percent assist rate, meaning that when the freshman is on the floor, he is assisting 30 percent of the team’s field goals. Not only has Whitehead been arguably the Pirates’ best creator offensively, but the Pirates’ usage percentage of Whitehead is at 30 percent as well. This means that when he has been on the floor, the Pirates have used more plays around him than any other player.

Until Whitehead arrives back, SHU will be looking to try to get the play out of Carrington and Sina had during the incredible week with two top-15 wins over St. John’s and Villanova. That week, the trio combined for 21 assists and just 11 turnovers, with Gibbs recording eight dishes and no giveaways against the Red Storm.

John Fanta can be reached at or on twitter @John_Fanta.


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