Whitehead has 25 points to lead Seton Hall over Providence
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Seton Hall is closing in on its first NCAA tournament berth in a decade and Isaiah Whitehead is leading the way.
The sophomore point guard had 25 points and nine assists and Seton Hall posted its first 20-win season in four years with a 70-52 victory over slumping and ailing Providence on Thursday night.
''He has a unique ability when he is playing the way he has been playing,'' coach Kevin Willard said after Seton Hall improved to 20-7 overall and 10-5 in the Big East. ''He makes everybody better but he makes it very simple for them. He's been playing extremely well, seven of the last eight games, at an extremely high level, and that's why we have been playing at a high level.''
Whitehead, who was 8 of 12 from the field, had 3-pointers to ignite and cap a 15-point run bridging the end of the first half and the start of the second that turned a four-point game into a blowout at the Prudential Center.
Not surprisingly, the Pirates have won seven of eight in posting their first season of 20 wins overall and 10 in the Big East since 2003-04.
''It means everything,'' Whitehead said. ''When I first came here everyone expected me to lead the team to the tournament, and hopefully I will do it this year.'
Khadeen Carrington, who had seven points in the decisive spurt, added 12 points. Angel Delgado added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Pirates, who have three games left in the regular season in their bid for a first NCAA berth since 2006.
''I think we have to do more.'' Carrington said. ''We have to win a couple of more games, win games in the Big East (tournament). You never want to just relax. We have to keep playing basketball.''
The loss was the fifth in six games for Providence (19-9, 7-8), but the bigger concern was center Ben Bentil picking up a flagrant 2 foul with 3:40 to play. He was ejected after a 31-point performance.
''It's that time of the year and we just haven't played well,'' said Friars coach Ed Cooley, who felt Bentil should not have been ejected. ''Hopefully we can get healthy, get some NyQuil go to sleep and wake up tomorrow with a different attitude, ready to go on Saturday.''
Bentil got his flagrant for close-lining Desi Rodriguez on a drive to the basket. It caused the guard to take a scary fall to the court, but he got up quickly and Bentil apologized. After conferring and looking at the videotape, the officials ejected Bentil, who was 10 of 27 from the field on a night that three Friars' starters were not feeling well.
Cooley said Chris Dunn (8 points), Junior Lomomba (2) and Rodney Bullock (0) have all been sick in recent days.
No other player scored in double figures for Providence, which shot 28.4 percent from the field, making 4 of 24 from long range.
The turning point of the game came late in the first half after Providence closed to within 27-24. The Friars had the ball with 30 seconds to play and Dunn was called for an offensive foul driving in the lane with 6.8 seconds to play.
Not only did the Pirates get the ball, Whitehead hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the lead to seven. Carrington then came out and hit a jumper and a 3-pointer early in the second half to ignite a 12-point run that increased the lead to 42-24. The margin grew to 21 before Bentil lead a charge that got Providence within seven points a couple of times.
That was as close as it would get in losing to Seton Hall for the second time this season.
Providence: Take away Bentil's 31 points, and the rest of the Friars starting lineup contributed 10 points.
Seton Hall: This is the Pirates' ninth 20-win season in the Big East era (1979-80 through the present). The first seven resulted in NCAA tournament bids. The only one that didn't was 2011-12, when a 20-12 regular-season and Big East tournament mark netted an NIT bid.
Providence: hosts DePaul on Saturday.
Seton Hall: hosts No. 5 Xavier on Sunday.