Seton Hall-South Florida Preview
Tagged with the school's first AP ranking in more than a decade, Seton Hall responded with its best offensive performance of the season.
Now, the 24th-ranked Pirates will try to keep rolling on the road.
Seton Hall seeks a fifth straight Big East victory Friday night when it takes on South Florida.
The program's previous appearance in the Top 25 ended during a five-game losing streak in the 2000-01 season, but these Pirates (15-2, 4-1) are trending in the other direction.
Their only loss in their last 13 games was at top-ranked Syracuse, and they backed up their return to the poll with a resounding 94-73 win Tuesday against DePaul. Their point total and their shooting - 58.7 percent from the field and 52.4 from 3-point range - were season highs.
"Whether we are ranked or not, we still have to go out and take care of business," senior point guard Jordan Theodore said. "It doesn't change anything. It just puts a target on our back."
Theodore handled that as well as anyone, matching career bests with 26 points and 11 assists. He led an offense that got unprecedented performances from a pair of underclassmen, with sophomore Fuquan Edwin scoring a career-high 28 points and freshman Aaron Cosby a season-high 15.
Senior Herb Pope added his 10th double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Coach Kevin Willard said his senior stars and talented youngsters are easily motivated.
"The great thing about this team is that I have two seniors who are trying to extend their careers and obviously play at the next level," Willard said. "The rest of them are just freshmen and sophomores. It is really easy to keep freshmen and sophomores grounded."
Edwin may be flying high after his last two games. He had never scored more than 20 points before getting 24 in Saturday's 66-57 win at Providence, then he matched that total in the first half alone against the Blue Demons before finishing 10 of 14 from the field.
"Everybody seems to be focusing on Jordan and Herb, and I just sneak up," said Edwin, who had 11 points as part of a balanced attack in a 64-55 win over South Florida last season.
The Pirates have won eight of nine all-time matchups with the Bulls but lost their most recent visit to Tampa 76-74 in overtime Jan. 28, 2010. Pope had 17 rebounds in that game but just five points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Pope, Theodore and Edwin all rank among the Big East's top 20 in scoring, but South Florida - by far the league's lowest-scoring team with 61.4 points per game - doesn't have anyone in the top 35.
It showed Tuesday, as the Bulls (9-8, 2-2) shot 38.2 percent in a 60-49 loss at Notre Dame, hitting 1 of 13 from beyond the arc.
"I think we've been pretty solid on the defensive end. We've been a little inconsistent on offense," coach Stan Heath told South Florida's official website. "When we're making shots we're pretty good. Like any team, when you're not you struggle a little bit."
The Bulls have gotten a boost recently from Jawanza Poland, averaging 11.2 points in six games since returning from injury and suspension. He had a game-high 20 points in a 74-57 win at Villanova last week.
South Florida, already one conference win shy of matching last season's total, is 8-1 at home, with the only loss coming 60-57 to then-No. 9 Connecticut on Dec. 28.