Because of a series of injuries, illnesses, transfers and what have you, Seton Hall hadn't been able to practice with its full complement of scholarship players from the middle of December until Tuesday afternoon.
The return of key players like Brandon Mobley and Brian Oliver from injuries spearheaded Seton Hall's 55-47 victory over South Florida on Wednesday night in a game that both the players and coach Kevin Willard deemed "crucial."
"It was a big win, a very crucial win," said Willard, whose team snapped a four-game losing streak to improve to 13-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big East. "The week off (since the last loss to Marquette) really helped us, because we were able to get back some guys who were hurt. We practiced for the first time together in a month with our full team and that gave us confidence, both offensively and defensively."
Defense was the reason why the Pirates sent the Bulls (10-8, 1-5 Big East) to defeat, holding the Bulls to just 33.9 percent field goal shooting (19 of 56) and 15.8 percent from 3-point range (3 of 19).
"They got some easy buckets and shot the ball well from three against Georgetown," Willard said. "I thought if we could defend the three, we could win the game. Give us a week to prepare and we should be able to play defense."
Mobley, who missed the Pirates' loss to Marquette with a separated shoulder, scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 21 minutes. Oliver, who missed the previous five games with a sprained ankle, connected on all three of his long-range shots for nine points in just 12 minutes.
"Both Brian and Brandon were limited with what they could do," Willard said. "I was more worried about Brian being out for so long, but he showed no signs of rust."
Oliver was glad he could make an impact.
"It was a big game," Oliver said. "We came in here knowing that we had to win. We rallied together and fought. Now we still have to keep on fighting."
Mobley was impressed with the way he and Oliver were able to contribute.
"For having only two days of practice together, I thought we did pretty good," Mobley said. "We put it all together and got the win. It felt good to have everyone out there."
"I was looking forward to getting this team healthy," Willard said.
Fuquan Edwin led all scorers with 16 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Pirates.
Mobley scored eight of his points in the second half to hold off any possible South Florida run.
South Florida was paced by Jawanza Poland, who scored 13, and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who had 10 points.
The Pirates never trailed, scoring the first five points and pushing their lead to double digits twice, the latest being 29-19 with 43 seconds left in the first half.
Poland's long 3-pointer at the buzzer sliced the lead to 29-22 at the end of the half, which was played at a slow, methodical pace.
After the Pirates led 5-0, then later 12-4 on a layup by Edwin, the Bulls crawled back to trail 14-13 after a layup by Zach LeDay with 10:46 left.
But the Pirates went on a 9-0 run for a 23-13 lead with 6:01 remaining in the half. Teague had six of Seton Hall's nine points during that stretch.
South Florida scored the first six points of the second half to slice the lead to 29-28 with 16:10 left on a power move from Martino Brock.
"I always think that we have a legitimate chance to win," said South Florida coach Stan Heath. "We just didn't make shots when we had to. I told my guys that we didn't play poorly. We got out of the break well and cut the lead quickly, but we just couldn't make a shot. We needed some to help us a little and make a shot. We were too much on the roller coaster, making progress one minute, then taking a step back the next."
Edwin scored the next five points, a 3-pointer and two free throws, to push the lead back to 34-28 with 15:10 remaining.
The Pirates were in control the rest of the game.
"We're going to have to grind it out a little," Willard said. "There will be no more 30-point blowouts. We have to grind it out to win."
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