Seton Hall 64, No. 9 Pittsburgh 61
Four years after taking the Seton Hall job, coach Bobby Gonzalez now has a marquee win that is going to make people take notice.
Herb Pope had 19 points and nine rebounds and Seton Hall posted its biggest win in Gonzalez's turbulent tenure, 64-61 over No. 9 Pittsburgh on Sunday in a game in which Pirates' leading scorer Jeremy Hazell was limited nine points and 16 minutes by foul problems.
``For us to win with Jeremy on the bench with nine points, it shows we are becoming a good team,'' Gonzalez said after his first win over Pittsburgh (15-4, 5-2 Big East). ``We're also a team that can win different ways. It was the 80s the other night versus Louisville and today it was the 60s. That's a good sign that you are becoming a good team.''
The last time Seton Hall (12-6, 3-4 Big East) beat a top-10 team was March 3, 2006, when they also beat then-No. 8 Pittsburgh, 65-61.
Since Gonzalez took over the following season, The Hall had beaten a couple of teams ranked in the teens. Gonzalez wasn't aware that this was his biggest win at the school until sports information director Matt Sweeney told him after the game.
``It's a great win for me personally, a great win for our program and a great win for our team,'' Gonzalez said. ``Hopefully it gets a little national attention, even though it's early in the year. There was this perception out there of, 'What's wrong with Seton Hall?' They have good talent and good expectations, but their record is not that good.''
With the latest two wins and near misses against West Virginia, Syracuse, Temple and Connecticut, the Pirates have a chance of making a run at the NCAA tournament.
Jeff Robinson tallied 15 points and hit two clutch free throws with 12 seconds to give the Pirates their final margin.
Ashton Gibbs had 23 points, including all 14 of his free throws, to lead Pittsburgh, but he missed two tying 3-point attempts in the final 5 seconds.
Jermaine Dixon added 11 points for the Panthers, who lost their second straight for the first time since February 2008. No. 12 Georgetown knocked off Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
``It's a disappointing loss. We didn't play well enough to win,'' Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. ``Our execution, both offensively and defensively, wasn't good enough to win. Our turnovers were too high. Those are things that are going to get you beat. We made bad decisions with the ball. We've now had a couple of bad games now.''
The story of the first half and the game was the Pirates' ability to play without Hazell, the conference's second leading scorer with a 23-point average. He picked up three fouls in the opening seven minutes, including a technical, and got his fourth in the opening seconds of the second half.
The Pirates, however, found a way to win without him, using their defense. They limited Pittsburgh to 35 percent shooting from the field, forced 20 turnovers and basically beat the Panthers at their own slowdown game.
``This is a stepping stone for us to learn and build from this, and try to grow,'' said Pope, who lives in the Pittsburgh suburb of Aliquippa. ``We still had some mental lapses down the stretch and at the end of the game, where it was shaky.''
Trailing 33-32 early in the second half, Pope scored the final five points in a 9-0 run that gave the Pirates the lead for good at 41-33.
Pittsburgh managed to get to within 45-43 midway through the half, but Seton Hall eventually got two free throws by Robinson, a layup from Hazell and a layup from Pope to push the advantage to 56-47 with 6:22 to play.
The Hall was still up 60-54 with 90 seconds left when Pittsburgh made its final push. Two free throws by Dixon closed the gap to four points, and after Jordan Theodore made a free throw - filling in for a cramping Pope - Gibbs cut the lead to 61-58 with two free throws with 37 seconds left.
Pope made another free throw with 21.5 seconds to go, then Gilbert Brown nailed a 3-pointer with 15.1 seconds to go to make it a one shot game. Robinson then made his free throws and Gibbs, a New Jersey native back home, failed twice to tie the game.
``I felt confident about the first one,'' said Gibbs, who was 4 of 15 from the field, including 1 of 7 from long range. ``I really thought it was going in. The second one, I didn't have a good look and rushed it up there.''
Hazell picked up his second personal foul with 12:56 left in the half on a reach-in at midcourt against Brown with the score tied. Annoyed by the call, Hazell mouthed off to referee Karl Hess and got a technical, which counted as his third personal.
Instead of falling apart, the Pirates stayed close and put together a 16-4 run keyed by six points by Robinson and four steals by Eugene Harvey, who finished with nine points.
A jumper by Pope gave Seton Hall a 30-19 lead with 2:38 left in the half but Pittsburgh scored the final six points with Brad Wanamaker hitting a 3-pointer to cap the spurt.