By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
You have to pardon Seton Hall head men’s basketball coach Kevin Willard if he appears worn down these days.
That’s because his Pirates are literally falling apart. It seems as if there isn’t a day that goes by where the Pirates don’t have some sort of injury or malaise hanging over their collective heads.
The injury plague started a few weeks ago when junior forward Patrik Auda was lost for the season with a broken foot. It continued when freshman center Kevin Johnson hurt his knee, requiring surgery.
Then junior center Aaron Geramipoor had a back problem and a stress fracture to his foot that forced the team’s tallest player to the sidelines. And then Brian Oliver, the Georgia Tech transfer, suffered a sprained ankle, taking him out of the lineup for four games, right after he finally found his shooting touch.
In the midst of all these injuries, a disgruntled Freddie Wilson, who did something to get himself suspended for the first three games of the season, decided to leave the program and transfer elsewhere, believed to be Drexel.
On Sunday, in a 67-55 loss to Providence at the Prudential Center, a team that came to Newark with no Big East wins and five straight losses, sophomore forward Brandon Mobley suffered a dislocated shoulder – the same right shoulder that he had surgery on in the summer of 2011.
“We’ll know more after the MRI tomorrow (Monday),” Willard said. “But it doesn’t look good.”
Mobley had finally found himself and was averaging 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds. Now, this injury happens. By the tone in Willard’s voice, you could sense that Mobley’s injury was one that would keep him out for the rest of the season.
“We’re a little beaten down right now,” Willard said. “I have no idea what we’ll do for next game.”
Needless to say, the Pirates are in a heap of trouble. They might have a respectable record of 12-5 overall, but they’ve now dropped three straight Big East games and the prospects of another win coming soon doesn’t look good, with upcoming games at Marquette, at St. John’s and at Georgetown.
Plain and simple, if you can’t beat a 0-3 Big East team with five straight losses in your own building, then how do you even hope to contend in one of the nation’s toughest leagues on the road?
“We have a lot of work to do,” Willard said. “We can try to play big, but then we’ll be slow. We can also try to play small, but that will make it tough for us to defend. We’re going through a tough period right now.”
Johnson wasn’t supposed to play Sunday, because the knee that he had surgery on flared up a little. But Willard had no choice and played Johnson for two minutes.
“We couldn’t get a rebound,” said Willard, who watched Providence amass an amazing 22 offensive rebounds. “I had to try something.”
Geramipoor played sparingly, but he has only scored two points all season – so he’s really not going to be much help even healthy.
It means that 6-foot-5 Haralds Karlis, who had a season-best 11 points against Providence, will probably get the bulk of playing time at the power forward position.
The Pirates really don’t have any other options. That’s how strapped they are right now.
“I wouldn’t want to be someone trying to play our four position (power forward), because they all seem to end up going out on crutches.”
Sure enough, when the Pirates stood for the national anthem Sunday, they had three people on crutches and they looked like a group of the walking wounded.
Don’t be surprised if Willard is scouring the South Orange campus right now, looking for any warm body with eligibility that stands over 6-foot-4. It’s a dire situation, one that is not going to get any better anytime soon.
“We’re limping into the bye week (the Pirates will have 10 days off after facing Marquette Wednesday in Milwaukee),” Willard said. “We have a lot of things we have to work on. If we get Brian (Oliver) back, that helps us.”
At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any help – unless medical science can find a way to cure all the Pirates’ ills in the matter of days. For now, it’s a season headed toward oblivion and certainly not what Willard wanted in his third season. He was supposed to make a decent splash this year with his own players. That’s now simply not going to happen.
It’s all about survival mode right now for the Pirates – and after a few more losses that are bound to happen, even simple survival will be a stretch.
But the Friars were aided by 22 offensive rebounds and 17 Seton Hall turnovers, 14 of which came in the first half.
“In this league, you’re not going to win when you give up 22 offensive rebounds and turn it over as much as we did,” Willard said. “We’re a little beat down, but that’s no excuse for coming out and not competing, especially off the boards.”
Seton Hall was paced by Fuquan Edwin, who finished with 17 points, although he was plagued by foul trouble all game. Haralds Karlis had a season-high 11 points in vain.
At one point of the first half, the Pirates had taken just 15 shots, because they committed an astounding 14 turnovers, many of which were unforced.
“We had two really big turnovers where we just didn’t catch the ball and that deflated us,” Willard said.
The Pirates were also hurt by two early fouls committed by Brandon Mobley, who later left the game with a dislocated right shoulder – the same one he had surgery on last summer.