It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t easy, but Seton Hall withstood a furious rally from Villanova and claimed a 66-61 overtime Big East win over the previously unbeaten Wildcats. Playing without freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead, the Pirates have now claimed Big East home wins over the conference’s two best teams, St. John’s and Villanova, to start the conference season as plenty of others stepped up in the big win.
Junior guard Sterling Gibbs paced Seton Hall (12-2, 2-0) with 20 points and four assists while freshman guard Khadeen Carrington gave a huge lift off the bench with a career-high 17 points and 9-for-10 free-throw shooting. Although he struggled shooting from the perimeter, senior forward Brandon Mobley added 10 points, six rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
The No. 6 Wildcats (13-1, 1-1) started the game 0-for-7 from the field but remained calm and clawed their way back into the game after trailing 17-3. Villanova was cold from the field (18-for-58) and mediocre from the free-throw line (20-for-35) but stayed in the game thanks to a determined defensive effort and the outstanding play of junior big man Daniel Ochefu. After its hot start, Seton Hall cooled off and shot 3-for-17 to end the first half and Ochefu played the role of clean-up man for the Wildcat offense as he had 19 points and 24 rebounds.
But Villanova turned the ball over 15 times and never seemed to find a rhythm on the offensive end. Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis combined to go 1-for-12 from the field for two points, six assists and four turnovers. Seton Hall’s defense did a great job of contesting nearly every look and if not for Ochefu going crazy on the glass, this game would not have gone into overtime.
Saturday’s game also exposed a major flaw for Villanova: when the game is on the line, do the Wildcats have a reliable go-to option to get a basket? The Wildcats have been able to win games thanks to their tremendous balance, tough defense and efficient shooting, but if shots aren’t falling, they don’t have many shot creators. Once Darrun Hilliard (14 points) fouled out in overtime, Villanova was cooked because he was their only consistent offensive option on the perimeter on Saturday.
As for Seton Hall, they’ve shown over these two Big East games that they’re still a very confident team without Whitehead, their McDonald’s All-American guard. They could still use Whitehead’s ability to create shots for himself and others, but they certainly don’t miss his high-volume approach to scoring. Whitehead is the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, but he’s only shooting 39 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line this season.
If the Pirates can continue to get Gibbs easy looks and find a second scoring option to replace Whitehead it looks like they’ll remain a tough out in the Big East. Villanova began to double Gibbs during crunch time to force the ball out of his hands, but others like Carrington stepped up and made big plays.
I’ll be the first to admit that I buried Seton Hall’s Big East (and NCAA Tournament) hopes without Whitehead. I thought that defenses keying on Gibbs would make the Pirates susceptible to poor stretches on offense — and that could still very well happen. But Seton Hall is playing with a lot of confidence and others have stepped up in key situations. Winning back-to-back games over St. John’s and Villanova is a major statement to start the conference season.