No. 23 Seton Hall (8-1) recorded their second top-10 victory of the season when they beat No. 7 Texas (6-2) 64-60 off the back of a double-double performance from graduate-transfer Alexis Yetna on Thursday night.
The 6-foot-8 forward recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds, scoring a crucial equalizing basket to beat the buzzer just before half time to level the score at 37-37. Yetna’s defensive performance, though, was what ultimately solidified Thursday night’s game as a potential career game during his college basketball tenure. He was instrumental in silencing Texas’ Tre Mitchell, who recorded 19 points and 11 rebounds, for the final 10 minutes of the game down the stretch.
Head coach Kevin Willard said he did not make any particular adjustments to the team's defensive approach after Mitchell's 13-point first half. He commended Mitchell and Texas on making an impressive number of difficult shots throughout the first half, but Willard also said that he believed his team's first half approach would eventually pay off and Texas' hot hands would cool down.
Bryce Aiken provided the offensive inspiration the Pirates needed to close out the game, though, hitting his first and only three-point basket with 33 seconds left in the second half. His pair of made free throws at the end of the game made him the fourth Seton Hall player to record double-digit figures in points and cement the four-point win over Texas.
"In that moment, we had to do whatever we needed to do to win," Aiken said. "The shot presented itself, and I took it. I don't really think, it's kind of just instinctive. You're just playing ball at that point. It's hoop, just good old hoop."
Aiken had missed each of his previous seven attempted three pointers and had shot just 2-for-11 from the field.
"Bryce is the most confident kid I've ever met," senior guard Jared Rhoden said. "No matter what situation he's in, I know he's going to take care of it, I know he's going to make the best decision. When he does it with confidence like that, then you know that's just Bryce."
Rhoden led the team in points scored on the night with 18 after shooting 7-for-18 from the field and added five rebounds as well. With Thursday's win being Seton Hall's second over a top-10 team — the first having been against No. 4 Michigan in November — it was another night in which the Pirates walked away from a game having made a statement as to how well this team can play when they are firing on all cylinders.
"A lot of people had us ranked fifth in the Big East, but I think this just shows how good of a team we are," Rhoden said. "Ike [Obiagu] got hurt in the first five or 10 minutes of the game, and we had a supporting cast come in. Alexis and Tyrese both had double-digit nights which was amazing for us, and I think that's big time."
Ike Obiagu started the game for the Pirates and recorded two points and two rebounds in his five minutes of floor time, but he rolled his ankle on the way down from jumping for a rebound. In his place, though, Yetna shined on either side of the court while Tyrese Samuel led the team with 11 rebounds and four blocks to accompany seven points from 3-for-4 shooting.
After the game, Texas head coach Chris Beard was full of praise for Seton Hall's efforts, calling them a top 10-15 team regardless of where they are ranked in the current AP Top-25.
"I think there's a dozen or so teams when the season starts that have a chance to win a national championship, and I think they're one of them," Beard said.
Coincidentally, Seton Hall's next opponents, Rutgers, recorded their own top-10 win with a buzzer-beating three-point basket to knock down No. 1 Purdue at the RAC. After the difficulties of a COVID-19 season prevented the two teams from meeting for their annual Garden State Hardwood Classic, the lust for this rivalry has not died down, especially among tenured players.
"They're obviously our rival, and not playing them last year kind of hurt because they beat on us two years ago at the RAC," Rhoden said. "I'll never forget that 14-0 start. That's still a bad taste I've got in my mouth."
The Pirates last played the Scarlett Knights during the 2019-20 season when they lost 68-48 at the RAC.
Aiken and Yetna added that despite having never played a game in the rivalry, they are both excited for their first opportunities to play Rutgers on Sunday.
Thursday's win put Willard level with PJ Carlesimo for second-most wins at 212 as head coach of the Seton Hall men's basketball program with the opportunity to go clear at second with a win against Rutgers. Going into the game, Seton Hall lead the all-time series record 23-15 and have a 13-5 record against Rutgers at home, but the last 10 games between the two programs have been evenly split at five wins a piece.
Justin Sousa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.