The Seton Hall Pirates basketball team left New Jersey two days ago and crossed the Hudson River on a mission. After dispatching the reeling Butler Bulldogs on March 12, the Pirates cast aside any aspersions over their ability to hang with the big boys by eliminating the Big East regular season champion Villanova Wildcats on March 13.
This victory had many wondering if the Pirates could break the 21-year drought and bring a conference title back to South Orange since the Terry Dehere days. Big man Eugene Teague burned Villanova with a 19-point, 12-rebound performance in the upset and the Pirates looked to ride his 6-foot-9, 270 pound frame into the championship game.
The Providence Friars had other ideas. LaDontae Henton stripped the nets for 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as the Friars held off a late run to end the Cinderella story, 80-74. Teague was limited by foul trouble and the Pirates misfired from three-point range to the tune of a dismal 6-for-21 from behind the arc.
The Friars took advantage of Teague’s absence and used their athleticism along with a number of screens to ignite the offense. Providence needs to continue to run the same offense in the title game. The screens on the blocks and on the perimeter were key in freeing up Henton and Tyler Harris (17 points) for easy jumpers. Bryce Cotton was able to find them and distribute the ball, finishing with 10 assists and 18 points of his own.
Providence will also need to continue its aggressive play on defense and on the boards. The Friars swarmed the Pirates all night, forcing them to take bad shots and winning the rebounding battle. Every loose ball seemed to end up in the hands of a Providence player; a point that head coach Ed Cooley stressed at the half. These small victories led to the big victory in the end.
The Friars will meet either the Creighton Bluejays or Xavier Musketeers in the final game. Providence was .500 against both of those teams in the regular season. If the Friars meet Creighton, they will simply have to outscore the Bluejays, as it appears there is no defense that can stop Doug McDermott. If Xavier pulls the upset, Providence should look to take advantage of the absence of the injured Matt Stainbrook, as they did with Teague tonight.
In any event, the title game will be a knock-down, drag-out dogfight that Providence has a chance to win and bring home a conference championship for the first time since 1994.