Matchup: Seton Hall (12-6, 2-3 Big East) at Providence (12-5, 3-2)
Rankings: Seton Hall, #91 in Pomeroy Ratings (11th of 16 in Big East); Providence, #48 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Providence, 87-77 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
When Tempos Collide: Seton Hall plays at the 18th fastest adjusted pace in the country (73.6 possessions/40 minutes) whereas Providence runs a more measured attack, ranking 164th in the adjusted rankings with 68.1/40.
Offenses Attract: Providence entered scoring an extremely healthy 1.11 points per possession, with Seton Hall at 1.09. Both teams have faced tough opposing defenses, so those numbers look even better after adjustment.
Watch When: Providence's guards catch the ball on the perimeter. The Friars have lit it up from long range recently, shooting 27-of-45 in conference wins over South Florida and Connecticut. Seton Hall ranks as the second-worst Big East team in defensive efficiency.
Result: Seton Hall, 88-75 in 67 possessions. The Pirates were surprisingly able to completely shut down Providence's three-point offense while launching an effective long range attack of their own.
Seminal Play: With 4:31 left in the game, Seton Hall forward Augustine Okosun followed Jamar Nutter's missed layup with a resounding slam dunk. The basket gave the Pirates a 76-61 lead, and sent the disappointed 9,147 fans in attendance streaming up the aisles.
Quotable: “One timeout I said, 'Guys, what do you want me to do? We can play man, we can play zone, change lineups—you gotta go get it.' It's not the scheme—you gotta play basketball, you gotta be able to guard people.”
—Providence coach Tim Welsh, on how his team failed to stop Seton Hall in the second half with either man-to-man or zone defense. The Pirates posted a 64 eFG% after the break.
The Big Picture: Seton Hall picked up its second straight win against a conference opponent in the Pomeroy Top 50. In the process, the Pirates notched their first Big East victory on the road in the two-year tenure of coach Bobby Gonzalez.
“It starts out like a snowball, and if you don't win pretty soon on the road it turns into a boulder. It was starting to feel like a piano on my back,” Gonzalez said of the weight that was lifted with the victory.
A feisty Seton Hall squad took a big step towards securing a berth in the Big East tournament, and showed a national television audience (the game was broadcast on ESPN2) that the Pirates might just make some noise in the rest of conference play.
The Details: Seton Hall game plan/Providence game plan
PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Seton Hall beat Providence in the Friars' own gym, at their own pace, and using their own offensive style on Thursday night.
Thanks to a remarkable scoring stretch to open the second half that was keyed by several big three-point plays, the Pirates transformed a sizable deficit into an upset win for the second straight game. After beating Louisville last Saturday at home—a contest in which they trailed by 14 in the second half—the Pirates negated a 15-point first-half deficit on the way to an 88-75 victory at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
The game moved at a meandering 67-possession pace, which would seem to favor the Friars more than a Pirates squad that ranked in the nation's top-20 in adjusted tempo. It became especially slow at the beginning of the second half, but Seton Hall proved brutally efficient playing at Providence's pleasure. The Pirates scored 12 points in their first five second-half possessions to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a 49-43 advantage. They then kept pouring it in. Over the initial 12 minutes of the latter period, Seton Hall racked up 33 points on 16 possessions, a performance that stunned the favored Friars into submission. Providence was unable to mount a run down the stretch and got no closer than within 10 points.
The Pirates turned the game around by turning the tables on the Friars, who shot a blazing 27-of-45 from the three-point stripe in their last two Big East games, both wins. It was Seton Hall, which sported a paltry 32.7 three-point percentage entering the game, that came up with the big long-range makes this time, with eight triples in 16 attempts. The Friar's hot stretch came to an abrupt end, as Providence fired up miss after miss from beyond the arc in the attempt to short-circuit the Pirates' momentous second-half run. The Friars shot 3-of-15 from deep after the break, and guards Jeff Xavier and Brian McKenzie combined to hit only 1-of-12 threes in the period.
“The three can be fool's gold, but you do what you do,” Welsh said. “Those guys are going to space the court, drive and kick and take open shots—we're not going to pass them up.”
Guard Larry Davis set the tone by getting fouled on a three-point attempt on the Pirates' initial second-half possession. After he made all three free-throws, Seton Hall hit four of its next six long range attempts, the last coming with 9:05 to play when senior guard Jamar Nutter nailed a fadeaway, contested shot from the wing. The nearly-impossible make stretched the Pirates' lead out to 68-53.
Senior forward Brian Laing's strong play also fueled the Pirates surge. Laing, the Big East's leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, was held down in the first half to the tune of seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. He got untracked by slipping behind Providence's 2-3 zone defense for back-to-back dunks early in the second period. Laing then nailed two mid-range jumpers during a critical 9-2 spurt that pushed the Pirates' lead, which dropped to one when the Friars scored three points following a technical foul on Gonzalez, back up to eight at the 12 minute mark. Laing managed to consistently get to the free-throw line as well, and finished with a team-high 22 points.
Seton Hall's defensive effort was also keyed by Lang. The undersized 6'5” power forward clamped down on 6'8” Friars forward Geoff McDermott, who was held to 2-of-7 shooting and nine points. Lang snagged a game-high 13 rebounds, which helped the smaller Pirates out-rebound Providence by four. Opponents had put up a 51 eFG% against Seton Hall entering Thursday, but its mix of man-to-man, zone, and full-court pressure defense held the potent Friars to a 43.3 mark.
The solid Pirates defense began at the end of the first half, and allowed the team to climb back from a large early deficit. Providence leaped out of the gate with scores on 12 of its first 19 possessions, which created a 26-11 lead at the 8:49 mark. From that point forward, however, the Pirates kept the Friars from scoring on 10 of their last 15 possessions. It was during that stretch of stinginess that Seton Hall whittled the advantage down to just one.
“When you give a team a little kick-start into life after being down, they seem to get their mojo going,” Welsh said. “It was 26-11, and all of a sudden they come back and it's a one-point game at halftime. You walk into the locker room, and you can hear [Seton Hall] down the hall—they act like they won the game, and we're walking in there with our heads down.”
"Once we were down one at half, our kids felt like we could win the game in the second half," Gonzalez added.
The transition point late in the first half came around the time Pirates 6'9” sophomore forward John Garcia checked back in after sitting a long while. One of the nation's leading rebounders on a percentage basis, Garcia's big frame and work on the boards boosted Seton Hall's defense. Garcia played almost all of the second half, and had several crucial put-backs off offensive rebounds during the team's charge in the first six minutes.
Providence guard Weyinmi Efejuku led all scorers with 23 points, but was the only Friar who played well offensively in both halves. Nutter hit four threes and scored 19 for the Pirates to push him over the 1,000 point mark for his career.
Seton Hall, which sullied Providence's perfect 8-0 home record to win its third straight, plays its next two games at home against Cincinnati and on the road versus in-state rival Rutgers. Both are winnable affairs, meaning the surprising Pirates could well be 5-3 in Big East play entering the murderers' row of their conference schedule, with consecutive games against Georgetown, Notre Dame, Villanova, Marquette, and West Virginia. Providence, meanwhile, took a big step in the wrong direction after its excellent win over Connecticut in Hartford last week. The Friars will have to prove they can win on the road again at Syracuse and Notre Dame in their next two games.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.