Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Sterling Gibbs not only knows how to hit a step-back, 19-foot game-winner.
He knows his math, too.
The Seton Hall sophomore guard is well aware that the Pirates must win four games in four days here at Madison Square Garden to make the NCAA Tournament with the Big East’s automatic bid.
Two down, two to go.
“You beat the No. 3 team in the country, it’s always a good feeling,” Gibbs said after draining a step-back 19-footer as time expired to give the No. 8 Pirates a dramatic 64-63 victory over No. 1 Villanova in the Big East quarterfinals.
“You come into the tournament knowing that you have to win four games in four days. So to just get one step closer to that is definitely a great feeling.”
Despite playing its second game in less than 24 hours, Seton Hall (17-16) advanced to its first Big East semifinal since 2001 and will play the St. John’s-Providence winner on Friday night.
Eugene Teague played a huge game in what could have been his final college game, going for 19 points and 12 rebounds and Patrik Auda added 13 points. Fuquan Edwin, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, managed just seven points on 3-for-15 shooting.
“I really thought if we could get past Butler, we could beat anybody,” head coach Kevin Willard said of his team’s 51-50 victory on Wednesday night. “But I was really scared about getting past Butler. It’s a tough matchup for us.”
As reported by The Star-Ledger, Willard had an $1,800 suit ruined when the guys gave him a shower in celebration.
“Guys gave me a shower after the game and [it] got a little beat up. It was definitely worth it,” Willard told SNY.tv.
Seton Hall had lost two regular-season games to Villanova by a combined 33 points, but Willard found himself courtside after the game receiving congratulatory texts from Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and Mr. New York Basketball Isaiah Whitehead, a 2014 Seton Hall commit.
Whitehead will be part of a recruiting class next year at Seton Hall that now numbers five players and could be as many as six.
At that point, Gibbs (10 points) and Jaren Sina will be joined in a loaded backcourt by Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington, allowing Willard to play four guards, which he intends to do.
The pressure will be on Willard and his staff — which by then will likely include Lincoln High coach Tiny Morton — to produce NCAA Tournament berths.
For now, though, he and his team are focused on their third game in three days. And maybe a little magic this year.
“We’re really confident, honestly, especially after you beat the No. 3 team in the country,” Gibbs said. “They’re the best team in the Big East, and by the same time, we know if we can beat them, we can beat anyone.
“So we’re just up for the challenge.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.