Roosevelt Jones scored 17 of his 23 points after halftime as Butler upset No. 21 Seton Hall in overtime, defeating Pirates 79-75 at Prudential Center. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
Playing their first game back from arguably the most difficult road trip in conference play, in two hostile environments against Xavier and Creighton, one could have expected Seton Hall to struggle in their return to the Prudential Center. One also could have expected the Pirates to relish the challenge of a pesky Butler team.
As it turned out, there was a little bit of both involved.
Behind 30 points from Sterling Gibbs, the 21st-ranked Pirates forged a late first half lead before coming back to tie the game on numerous occasions down the stretch, but were done in by the visiting Bulldogs, who improved to 13-5 and 3-2 in Big East play with a 79-75 overtime victory against Seton Hall, who fell to 13-4 and the same 3-2 league ledger as their opponent.
Roosevelt Jones, who missed all of last season with a wrist injury after helping lead the Bulldogs to success under former coach Brad Stevens in their final year in the Horizon League and only year in the Atlantic 10, led Butler with 23 points, also posting eight rebounds in a performance marked by two consecutive floaters in overtime that went a long way toward sealing the final outcome. "He's one of the brightest players I've coached," Bulldogs coach Chris Holtmann of his burgeoning big man. "He sees things at a high level."
The coach across the court, however, sang a different tune after the final buzzer.
"We just came out sluggish," Kevin Willard conceded as the Pirates were defeated by Butler for the third time in four meetings since the former NCAA Tournament darling joined the Big East last season. "I think their length and their size really has done us in, especially here (at home). We had some opportunities to go up six or eight in the first half, and I thought that was big."
Seton Hall did indeed have several chances to set the tone going into the locker room, but only Khadeen Carrington, who set a career high with 20 points in the losing effort, was able to complement Gibbs on a night where Brandon Mobley and Jaren Sina could only muster a combined six points on 1-of-19 shooting.
"I think we're all getting a little too reliant on Sterling trying to bail us out at times," Willard emphatically declared. "Khadeen did a great job. I think we all showed up too late."
Even with Gibbs' latest tour de force, and a 32-28 halftime lead, the Pirates did not get a field goal after the intermission for the first 7:52 of the second half, when the Big East Player of the Year candidate Gibbs knocked down a three-pointer to end what had been a 16-3 Butler run out of the intermission, bringing Seton Hall within six at 44-38. However, it took over eight minutes after that for someone other than Gibbs to convert a field goal for the Hall, as an Angel Delgado layup with 3:56 remaining in regulation cut Butler's lead back to six at 57-51. From there, the Pirate defense was able to ramp up its pressure, taking both Alex Barlow and Andrew Chrabascz out of the game for the Bulldogs in the final minutes of regulation, which ended tied at 67 after Butler was unable to answer Carrington's game-tying floater with 23 seconds on the clock.
After a scoreless 1:11, Kellen Dunham, who added 21 points to support Jones, struck first in the extra session, with his three-pointer giving the Bulldogs a 70-67 advantage. Following a Kameron Woods free throw, Gibbs' latest trifecta pulled the Pirates within one, but it was as close as Seton Hall would get. After Dunham's two foul shots were answered by a Desi Rodriguez dunk, Jones' back-to-back baskets put Butler ahead by five.
"When I was younger, I played against taller people, so I had to find ways to get my shot up," Jones explained when asked of his unorthodox delivery. "As I got older, it stuck with me."
A Woods free throw made it 78-72, and Carrington's three with six seconds remaining in overtime made it a one-possession game again. Needing Butler to miss both ensuing free throws, Seton Hall could only watch as seldom-used Jackson Aldridge knocked down the second after missing his first, effectively sealing the victory.
"We've played some good teams this year," Holtmann said after his team became the first in the Big East to post two road conference wins, with tonight's upset joining the victory Butler notched on the road ten days ago against a then-15th-ranked St. John's team. "They (Seton Hall) are certainly up there with the good teams we played. My first thought is, and you can see this on tape, Seton Hall is really good. They are clearly an NCAA Tournament team. So, long answer to a short question, we're very proud of those two road wins."