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Simmons’ 24 points leads Seton Hall past Providence 88-79 in Big East tournament

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CHICAGO – Ka-Deidre Simmons has seen a lot of turnover in her collegiate career at Seton Hall.

Simmons, a redshirt junior, was recruited by longtime Seton Hall head coach Phyllis Mangina in 2009, but Mangina resigned before Simmons’ freshman year. Simmons then played under Anne Donovan, who was fired after three seasons with the team.

Enter Anthony Bozzella. Bozzella, who was hired this season after spending 11 seasons at Iona College, led the Pirates to the team’s best season since 2007.

“The coaching changes were a bit difficult for me, but coach B came in here and helped us offensively,” Simmons said. “He got us to continue to believe. This team really believes in each other and we just want to win.”

The hire has paid off so far.

Simmons scored 24 points and Alexis Brown added 14 to lead Seton Hall in an 88-79 victory over Providence in the first game of the women’s Big East tournament.  

Brown flirted with a triple double, grabbing 10 rebounds and seven assists on top of her 14 points.  Three other Pirates finished in double figures as the Pirates advanced to the Big East quarterfinals to take on the No. 2 seed St. John’s.

“I’m very proud of these ladies,” Bozzella said. “I thought our kids did the right things. I was very happy.”

Seton Hall (18-12, 8-10) controlled the game by forcing turnovers and capitalizing on Providence’s poor shooting early. The 10th-seeded Friars (7-23, 2-16) committed 17 turnovers and shot 40 percent (26-65).

The Pirates went on a 15-6 run to end the half and went into the locker rooms with a 40-25 lead. 

Providence opened the second half with a 13-6 run to cut Seton Hall’s lead to six, 46-40, with 13 minutes remaining. Providence forward Evi IIskola drained a pair of 3-pointers in that run to spark that run. IIskola finished with 21 points and went four of five from downtown.

“This was really a breakout game for Evi,” Providence head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl said. “As a sophomore, she was never really that much of an offensive player. But we do a lot of skill work and we try to develop our players over their careers. Hitting big shots like that gave our kids a lot of confidence.”

The Pirates were able to regain control under Simmons. She scored 14 of her 24 points in the second half. Seton Hall extended their lead to 19, 63-44, with 8:40 remaining.

Redshirt freshman Sidney Cook also proved to be valuable. Cook, who was averaging 6.1 points per game, scored eight of her 12 points in that stretch.

“Our girls are fighters and we needed (Cook) today,” Bozzella said. “We wouldn’t have won today without her.”

Still, Providence had one more run left in them. The Friars went on a 16-5 run and trailed 77-71 with two minutes remaining. Tori Rule hit a 3-pointer to cap off the three minute run.

The Friars were without starting point guard Sarah Beal, who suffered an injury at practice the day before.

“This group has been pretty good with their chemistry,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “I felt they could execute better, but they didn’t let (Beal’s injury) affect them mentally.”

Rule led all scorers with 27 points.

The Friars were able to get as close as four points, but Seton Hall took the game with free throws. The Pirates went 19-25 from the free throw line.

Seton Hall has a quick turnaround tomorrow by playing St. John’s at noon. The two teams face off at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.  St. John’s took both previous meetings on the year.

“They beat us better than any other team in the league,” Bozella said. “I really felt St. John’s was the one team this year that really hammered us because they defended us really well. I’m excited for that opportunity for our girls. If we’re going to be the best, we have to go through the best teams.”

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Simmons’ 24 points leads Seton Hall past Providence 88-79 in Big East tournament