Seton Hall Pirates make statement, knock off No. 7 Texas Longhorns

NEWARK, N.J. -- The same night its in-state rival knocked off the No. 1 team in the country, Seton Hall made a statement of its own, knocking off No. 7 Texas, 64-60.

It was the Pirates' second win over a top-10 opponent this season, following their victory at then-No. 4 Michigan on Nov. 16.

"We're a great team," senior guard Bryce Aiken said. "We've been saying that all year. We're a really talented team. ... For us, it's just another step in the right direction."

In front of a raucous Prudential Center crowd of nearly 10,500, Seton Hall jumped out to an early eight-point lead within the first seven minutes, but that was the largest lead either side would have all game. Texas shot 56 percent from the first half, including nine straight field goals at one point, while Seton Hall countered by being active on the offensive glass, despite an early ankle injury to elite shot-blocker Ike Obiagu.

Both Alexis Yetna and Tyrese Samuel had double-figure rebounds and helped give the Pirates a 9-0 edge in second-chance points in the first half.

The second half brought a different Seton Hall defense, one that didn't allow Texas' perimeter players to heat up from behind the arc or let the Longhorns' big men get anything easy around the rim. Texas shot 31.3 percent from the field after halftime and went just 1-for-13 from 3-point range for the game.

Tre Mitchell (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Timmy Allen (17 points, 12 rebounds) carried the Longhorns, but received minimal help from the supporting cast. Over the final 16 minutes, Texas players besides Mitchell and Allen shot a combined 0-for-11 from the field.

"Our defensive intensity turned up a little bit," said senior forward Jared Rhoden, who finished with 18 points. "We knew they were trying to bang the ball inside, get the ball inside, so we just were trying to be physical with them and force them to take more outside shots."

Despite Texas' struggles -- and a scoring drought that lasted more than six minutes in the second half -- Seton Hall couldn't put the game away. After Allen cut Seton Hall's lead to one with 52 seconds left, Aiken responded with a pull-up 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Pirates a four-point lead.

Aiken, the former Harvard transfer who hasn't played a full season since 2016-17 due to injuries, was 2-for-11 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range before that shot.

"He's worked hard to get back," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "He's worked extremely hard to get his body to the point of where he is. Everybody in the locker room has confidence in that shot. I know I do."

Aiken was also the late-game hero in Seton Hall's win over Michigan earlier this season, hitting the game-winning free throws and scoring six of the Pirates' final seven points in that game.

"It's amazing to have a coach that believes in you," Aiken said. "Anyone who plays sports can attest to that. Not just coach, but all my teammates and everyone else on staff. They trust me to take those shots. When you have that confidence from your teammates, that just instills more confidence in yourself."

Picked fifth in the Big East in the preseason, Seton Hall entered Thursday night ranked No. 23 nationally, a ranking that will rise if the Pirates can beat Rutgers on Sunday -- the same Rutgers coming off a buzzer-beating win over top-ranked Purdue on Thursday night.

The rivalry game was skipped last season due to COVID, but the two teams usually face off annually, and Sunday takes on heightened importance following Thursday night's results.

"They're obviously our rival and not playing them last year hurt because they beat us two years ago at the RAC," Rhoden said. "I'll never forget that ... that's still kind of a bad taste I've got in my mouth."