Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seton Hall gets "masterpiece" in Big East opener, defeats St. John's 78-67

With 25 points, 8 assists and no turnovers, Sterling Gibbs vaulted Seton Hall to convincing 78-65 win over No. 15 St. John's in Big East opener. (Photo courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger)

Leading up to the start of the college basketball season, St. John's senior guard Phil Greene famously proclaimed his Red Storm team, which featured his fourth-year classmate D'Angelo Harrison and sophomore point guard Rysheed Jordan alongside him, as the owners of the "best backcourt in the country."

Apparently, Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina got that memo, and then some.

Playing perhaps his finest game of the season in a virtuoso 25-point, 8-assist, zero-turnover effort, Gibbs was the biggest difference maker for a Seton Hall team playing without the injured Isaiah Whitehead. As it turned out, the Pirates (11-2, 1-0 Big East) did not need their talented freshman, as four other players joined Gibbs in double figures en route to an emphatic 78-67 victory over No. 15 St. John's (11-2, 0-1 Big East) at the Prudential Center.

"I think we could be considered, to be honest," Gibbs replied to the assertion that perhaps he, too, was a piece to one of the better guard stables in the Big East. "A lot of people had been questioning us. We just wanted to go out there and show what we could do."

Gibbs set the tone for the Pirates from the opening tip, scoring Seton Hall's first field goal of the afternoon after St. John's jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, then adding five more points later in the opening stanza during an 8-2 run to knot the score at 23 apiece.

"(Sterling) had one of the better performances any player has had against St. John's over the years," Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin assessed in what he termed a "masterpiece." "He was, clearly, the central nervous system for Seton Hall."

But it was not Gibbs alone who was responsible for an 8-0 spurt to close the first half. With Seton Hall trailing 35-32 entering the final two minutes before the intermission, Jaren Sina made his presence felt, first adding a layup to trim the Pirates' deficit to one point before knocking down his first of four three-pointers 44 seconds later to vault Seton Hall into the lead for the first time. A Gibbs triple on the ensuing possession, sparked by a Desi Rodriguez steal and offensive rebound by Brandon Mobley, sent Seton Hall into the locker room with a 40-35 lead, one the home team would never relinquish.

"Today, I came out with the mentality to have fun, really enjoy the game," Sina refreshingly stated. "For me, personally, there's no better time to come out (of a slump) than a Big East game."

Seeing significant minutes once again in Whitehead's absence, Khadeen Carrington chipped in with 11 points, while Angel Delgado and Brandon Mobley contributed matching double-doubles, with Delgado's 12 rebounds two better than Mobley's total on a day where both scored 13 points.

A Sina three-pointer gave the Pirates their first double-digit lead of the day when Seton Hall went up 53-43 with 12:30 remaining in regulation, but St. John's, bolstered by Greene and Harrison; whose 25 points led the Red Storm and tied Gibbs for the game high, fought back with a combination of timely shots and their defensive pressure, seizing momentum with a 10-2 run to pull within two points, at 65-63, with 5:21 to play.

Delgado, who; along with Mobley, did an underrated and excellent job of taking Chris Obekpa and Sir'Dominic Pointer out of the game for St. John's, inflated the cushion back to a four-point margin with a layup under the rim. Following a missed layup by Greene, Seton Hall took control of the ball, leading to a three-pointer by Gibbs that essentially served as a dagger for the Pirates, who were able to ice the game at the foul line in the waning minutes.

"We let them do things they wanted to do," a blunt Harrison offered in regard to his team's defensive efforts. "We didn't play St. John's basketball today. That's why we lost. You could tell we weren't mentally ready because we didn't execute our game plan. I don't know what else to say."

St. John's must now recover as they return to Carnesecca Arena for a pivotal showdown with Butler on Saturday, one the Red Storm must win in order to avoid what could be a second straight disastrous start to conference play, a stretch they began last season with an 0-5 record. For Seton Hall, the momentum from today's victory must now be bottled and stored away in preparation for a meeting with sixth-ranked Villanova that was already circled on calendars across South Orange, and is now highlighted in the wake of this afternoon's result.

"We really kept our composure," Sina said of his team's response to St. John's rally. "Being able to take a punch from them, that was a game-changer. I think for such a young team, the way we responded is going to be important down the line, especially in the Big East. We've been through the wars. Just to tell the younger guys what it's going to be like, I think that can give us an advantage."

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