NEWARK, N.J. — Things just keep getting better for Seton Hall basketball.
Ranked in the top ten for the first time since 2000, there was no regression to the mean as No. 10 Seton Hall (15-4, 7-0) handled Providence 73-64 despite just six shots from Myles Powell (14p, 3a).
Powell was honored for reaching 2,000 points at St. John’s on Saturday and Kevin Willard tied P.J. Carlesimo with 78 league wins as Seton Hall mostly cruised to their ninth win in a row, matching a run from 2002-03.
Despite the strong comedic element, Powell taking a reporter’s phone post-game to ask Romaro Gill (17p, 8b, 6r) about how it feels to be the best big in the country was symbolic.
Not for the first time, Gill was literally and figuratively big, taking the spotlight off his roommate if just for the better part of 40 minutes and for the first few minutes of interviews, when Powell is usually getting mobbed.
Gill set a new career high with eight blocks — four in both halves — and rocked the rim at least five times officially (it felt like more) en route to tying his career high of 17 points, now reached three times since Georgetown.
“Ro’ is one of my best friends,” said Powell, also not a first. “To finally see him living up to his potential and doing the things that we know that he can do, it just lights my heart up.”
A combination of Ed Cooley stalking the player he briefly coached at the Pan American Games, David Duke hounding defense, and teammates getting the job done left Powell with just six total shots on the night.
But for most of the first half and parts of the second, it was Gill that made Powell’s quiet but efficient night a footnote.
Among several highlight reel eligible plays, Gill’s outstretched dunk from outside the paint late in the second half took the cake.
It also gave the Hall a nine-point lead just before the final timeout.
“We see that every day in practice. I seen him [go up] and I just started running back. I gave him a high-five and patted him on his chest but that’s what I expect out of him” said a smiling Powell.
Gill joked that he thought he was going to get stuffed by the rim, but the re-runs of Quincy McKnight (11p, 8a) inspired alley-oops have translated from practice and becoming nearly impossible for the Big East to stop so far.
“In practice we work on it a lot. I’ve got Ike [Obiagu] going against me in practice and sometimes he can’t stop it so I’m not worried about the opposing teams contesting it,” said Gill.
“He [McKnight] makes difficult passes and I catch them. Once I catch them I know he’s got confidence in me. I tell him every time if he’s in difficulty, ‘Just throw it up, I’ll go get it.’ It’s been working for us ever since.”
There’s some truth in the “us” part of that quote.
McKnight & Co. have made a simple — or even errant — pass seemingly the second-best offensive option for this team behind feeding Powell.
“I wouldn’t call him a second option, because we’re not throwing him the basketball in the post,” cautioned Kevin Willard.
“He doesn’t get any plays run for him, what we try to do is kind of use different guys in pick-and-rolls and disguise coverages so it’s not the same way, but I think the biggest thing is what you’re seeing, that guys are very confident in throwing it up to him.”
Now in double figures for six straight games after doing so just once prior in his career, Gill is far from a fluke on offense.
But even the 7’2 big from Jamaica isn’t quite used to his new shoes and all the attention that comes with success.
“Not really, I still get a little bit nervous but as time comes, I’ll get used to it,” said Gill.
“Honestly on this big stage I didn’t think I had the ability to [score]. I know I do it in practice but I feel like practice and game are two different atmospheres.
“When I did it in the Georgetown game I knew it was a thing that I could do.”
Always billed as a shot-blocker who can impact games defensively, the sudden ability on offense may seem like a revelation that vastly helps Seton Hall’s second weekend potential.
“The way he’s progressed since this summer, he’s put a lot of work into his game,” countered Willard.
“This summer, when we went overseas to Italy, I thought he had a different understanding of the game and had a much better feel than what he did last year. He was starting to play this way before he got hurt [last year for seven games]. … I started seeing this a little bit early last year.”
Clearly this has been a long time coming.
But not too long, Gill only started hooping a little over four years ago.
“He’s definitely changing his life on that basketball court. If you watch basketball — I’ll take a chance with him [on my team],” gushed Powell.
“He’s a great guy on and off the court, he’s a smart guy. He’s never talking trash, he’s never in any altercations on the court. Ro’ is just a great teammate and just a great person you want in your life.
“Everything that’s coming his way, he deserves it and I’m happy for him.”
The Big East knew they would have to navigate around Romaro Gill, but now they are realizing they have to stop him too.
For Seton Hall, the future is only getting brighter with every win added to the nine-game streak and with forward Sandro Mamukelashvili nearing a return.
Now 7-0 and likely to extend further to shatter prior starts to Big East play, the program is truly entering water uncharted.
“The group of guys that I came in with [2014 class], all the things that they’ve done for this school, just to be able to finally accomplish something they didn’t do, it means a lot to me, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” said Powell of the team’s flawless start to league play.
“But the job’s not done. We started this well so we may as well go and win the conference championship. That’s always the goal.”