Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seton Hall posts second straight upset, takes down Villanova in overtime

Khadeen Carrington's career-high 17 points lifted Seton Hall to second win over Top 25 team in four days, as Pirates held on for 66-61 overtime win against Villanova. (Photo courtesy of The Setonian)

Much like the baseball team in Pittsburgh with whom they share a nickname, Seton Hall's rise from what has been a near-decade-long abyss continues to not only defy convention, but also increase in terms of its sheer spectacle.

Only three days removed from what became the Pirates' statement win over 15th-ranked St. John's, Seton Hall heeded Kevin Willard's advice to "back it up" this afternoon, posting a dramatic 66-61 overtime victory to improve to 2-0 in the Big East while also knocking Villanova; a team ranked sixth in the Associated Press poll and fifth in the USA Today coaches' poll, from their perch among the undefeated.

"I'm so proud of this team," Willard gushed after Seton Hall (12-2 overall) defeated a Villanova team (13-1, 1-1 Big East) ranked in the top five of a poll for the second time in less than ten months, the first coming last March on Sterling Gibbs' buzzer-beating jumper to eliminate the then-third-ranked Wildcats from the Big East Tournament. "That's as good a basketball team in Villanova that I've ever played against, and for these guys to battle and battle and battle, and take shot after shot, all of them, I'm really happy. They deserve it, they've worked hard."

No member of the Pirate roster may have worked harder than Khadeen Carrington, whose career-high 17 points, eight of which came in the final three minutes of regulation and the five-minute extra session, played the biggest role in Seton Hall scoring yet another monumental win that will serve them well as Big East play intensifies.

"I've said this all along, he reminds me of a very, a little bit more undersized Dwyane Wade," Willard said of his freshman point guard. "The way he can score, the way he uses his athleticism, and he's just going to continue to get better and better. He's really the one guy that's benefiting from Isaiah (Whitehead)'s injury more than anything, because he's getting the chance to do more things."

The Pirates had to overcome more than just Whitehead as they squared off with the Wildcats amid a sellout crowd of 10,701, just the second full house since Seton Hall moved to the Prudential Center in 2007. A first half marked by 26 fouls called by the all-star crew of Brian O'Connell, Bryan Kersey and Gary Prager, whose quality officiating revealed itself more often than not despite the crowd's differing opinion, harkened back to the wars of Big East battles past as Seton Hall, who opened the game on a 17-3 run, lost their advantage when Angel Delgado picked up two quick fouls before the first media timeout. Without the Dominican freshman, whose rebounding talent has made him one of the better paint protectors in the conference, Villanova closed the gap quickly by feeding Daniel Ochefu under the rim as the opening stanza drew to a conclusion, a period the Pirates were lucky to escape with a slim 31-27 advantage.

With 16:57 remaining in regulation, a scary moment was ultimately avoided when Josh Hart appeared to trip Delgado near the halfcourt stripe. Delgado eventually made his return to the game, but Hart was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul, giving Seton Hall two free throws and possession of the ball thereafter, and earning the sophomore guard a crowd treatment not usually seen in a college basketball game.

Ochefu, whose two dunks in the ensuing minutes kept Villanova ahead for the time being, only magnified his productivity after the intermission on his way to a 19-point, 24-rebound effort that will be the standard-bearer among post presences for a considerable amount of time this season. It was the 6-11 center who kept Villanova alive on an afternoon where the Wildcats shot 57 percent (20-for-35) from the foul line, 15 points below their season average, and one where the duo of Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis was limited to just two points on 1-of-12 shooting.

"What Jay (Wright, Villanova's coach) has done with him in two years is phenomenal," Willard said of Ochefu. "That kid is a beast."

Ochefu's layup with 4:18 to play in the second half broke a 52-all tie, before Carrington's breakaway finger roll evened the proceedings again. Two Brandon Mobley free throws gave the Pirates a brief lead before Ochefu responded once more with 2:18 left in regulation. A driving hook shot by Carrington tipped the scales back toward Seton Hall with just over a minute to go, and Kris Jenkins' two foul shots on the ensuing possession knotted the score at 58.

Sterling Gibbs, whose 20 points led all scorers, had a chance to win it for The Hall, but his weak side runner fell short with less than six seconds to play. Following a timeout, Arcidiacono found Darrun Hilliard for a perfect three-point look from the right arc, but his attempt grazed the front rim to bring on an additional five minutes.

The Pirates struck first in overtime, with two Desi Rodriguez free throws, but the Wildcats, steadfastly answered with an Ochefu basket and the second of two Hart free throws a minute later, giving the visitors a 61-60 lead. It would be the last point Villanova would register, as Carrington's spinning layup with 1:38 on the clock in the extra frame put Seton Hall ahead 62-61. The freshman calmly knocked down two more free throws to stretch the lead to three points before Gibbs deflected an errant Arcidiacono pass into the waiting arms of Jaren Sina, whose two free throws provided the final margin of victory.

"(It was a) great college basketball game, great atmosphere, outstanding players and plays," Jay Wright conceded. "Seton Hall just got us in the end, they made the plays at the end and we didn't. We can get a lot better."

With their latest program-defining win, Seton Hall can now set their sights on a likely Top 25 ranking for the first time since the 2011-12 season, also the most recent campaign in which the Pirates were a postseason team. Regardless, the man overseeing the resurgence remains firmly grounded in what lies immediately ahead, not what could be awaiting.

"The only thing we're focused on," Willard cautioned, "is Xavier and the next game," which comes Wednesday night in Cincinnati. "I keep them very level-headed, very grounded. It's one game at a time. We have to go play at Xavier, at Creighton now, so these two home games for us, as I look at the Big East schedule, were as big as any two home games we had because of the next two road games."

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