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Seton Hall's Sterling Gibbs is turning into a star

Seton Hall is on the path back to national relevance, and a diminutive point guard from Seton Hall Prep is the biggest reason why.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Before the game commenced and Seton Hall took the floor to face a conference rival in Wisconsin, head coach Kevin Willard wanted to reassure his star guard.

Willard told Sterling Gibbs that if he "misses his first seven shots, that he must make his next seven shots." It was a reminder of how important Gibbs was and will be to the Hall whether star freshman Isaiah Whitehead returns this week or next. It became the aide-mémoire, the prompting, the mental note to the 6'2 junior from Scotch Plains, N.J. that he was the new face of the Hall.

Gibbs is the new Andre Barrett. The pint-sized point guard who could lead the Hall to greatness. Opposing coaches have started to recognize it, especially the Hall's most recent victim: Steve Wojchiechowski and the Marquette Golden Eagles.

"Tip my cap to Seton Hall, they played an outstanding game and it was the best they've shot in conference play," Wojchiechowski said Thursday during the Big East media teleconference. "Sterling Gibbs is one of the best guards in the United States, that had to do with a lot of how Seton Hall played."

Gibbs is knocking down 45.3 percent of his long balls, a ten percent increase from his sophomore sled, which leads the conference. He's scored more than 20 points six times this season, five of which coming in the last eight games, one being a 40-point outing against Illinois State. He's averaging 16.7 points and dishing 3.9 assists per game while knocking down 45 percent of his shots from the field. The points and percentages are both career highs.

Gibbs has hit six triples twice this season, against Butler and his last contest against Marquette. He's usually the smallest man on the floor. Pressure doesn't make him wilt. And he's led the Hall to its first Associated Press Top 25 ranking since 2012, and its highest ranking in 14 seasons.

Willard isn't abashed when speaking about the Pirates' dazzling point man. He's proud of Gibbs. His maturation has become important to the Hall's progress and it's success.

"I'm going to be biased, he is one of the best guards in the conference," Willard said. "We try to get him the basketball in as many situations as possible to create. It's not just pick and roll or isolation, it's getting him open using screens and more. He's really grown up this year and he's taken the leadership goal easily...he's just become a very smart basketball player and he's starting to mature a little bit and recognize what the defense is giving him."

Since late last season, when Gibbs sent Villanova packing in the Big East Tournament, the conference has been on watch and Seton Hall has been trending upward. It started when Gibbs transferred from Texas in 2012 to come back home to North Jersey.

The former Seton Hall Prep guard gave the Hall its first piece in a long rebuilding process since the 2013 season. The Hall hasn't had a player from Seton Hall Prep since Jamar Nutter (2003) and Marcus Toney-El (1999), players who helped lead them to the NCAA tournament nearly a decade and a half ago.

But now, the Hall is back, and on the shoulders of Gibbs for this season and next, they have a future as bright as anyone in the Big East. Gibbs continues to shed light on the strong pipeline of players that New Jersey basketball consistently produces. From West Orange to South Orange, Gibbs is the key ingredient to getting the Hall into March again.

"I told my guys, we've lost three in a row, but we've lost those three in 15 days," Willard said when asked how he kept his team grounded through a tough stretch. "We are still the same team that was ranked 19th in the country. We can't let negativity get us. It's hard to understand that with their's not like we've lost it. We just have to remember what made us a good basketball team. I'm proud with how they've bounced back in practice. If they do the little things, we can get back to playing as a team."