NEWARK, N.J. – Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson weren't going to let first-year coach Kevin Willard be the scapegoat for Seton Hall's problems this season.
When the Pirates hit rock bottom last Sunday with an embarrassing loss at home to New Jersey rival Rutgers and Willard blamed himself, the two forwards said not so fast.
They called out their teammates after the game and Seton Hall is suddenly looking like a much different team.
Behind Pope and Robinson the Pirates defeated Providence 81-71 on Sunday in a game that wasn't really that close, continuing a trend that started with a 90-68 win at No. 9 Syracuse on Jan. 25.
Pope had a season-high 23 points and 10 rebounds and Robinson added 20 points and six rebounds as the Pirates (10-12, 4-6 Big East) had five players in double figures.
"The Rutgers game we came out a little flat and after the game coach blamed himself," Pope said. "I don't want him to blame himself. He has done a great job, especially sticking with me through thick and thin.
"When that happened that was a turning point for me and Jeff because we didn't want our teammates to think now they have a scapegoat cause coach said it's his fault and players could say if I mess up, it's coach's anyway."
Robinson said that he and Pope told the players to start looking in the mirror when assigning blame.
"Us being accountable for our own mistakes helped us out a lot," Robinson said. "Now everybody knows what they have to do or we're going to let you know about yourself."
Robinson said the season-long excuse of things will eventually come together under the new coach got old.
"We had to take responsibility and got to own up to our stuff to win these games," Robinson said.
Willard said that Robinson and Pope have played as well as any two big men in the conference over the past three weeks, especially in terms of playing defense, getting rebounds and competing.
Since they spoke, Willard said there has been a change in the way the team feels about itself.
"I give them all the credit because I think those two guys stepping up made all the difference," Willard said.
Jordan Theodore added 11 points and Jeremy Hazell and Keon Lawrence had 10 each for the Pirates.
Marshon Brooks scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half for Providence (13-9, 2-7), which was coming off consecutive upsets of No. 8 Villanova and then-No. 19 Louisville. Vincent Council also had 20 points for the Friars, who are winless in six road games.
Brooks took the blame, noting he had nine of the Friars' 19 turnovers and probably was pressing too much.
"We shot better from the field, better from the 3-point line, we just turned the ball over too much," Brooks said. "The shot 20 (actually 16) more times than us and that's a recipe for disaster, especially on the road."
Seton Hall opened the game with a 25-11 run, led by 18 at the half and never allowed Providence to get within eight points the rest of the way.
Pope, who needed heart surgery in the offseason to fix a valve, had nine of those first 25 points, including a spectacular end-to-end layup that he turned into a three-point play. Robinson added eight points in the run.
Providence hit 18 of 32 shots from the field in the second half, but it could not get the lead under double digits until Brooks hit a basket with 90 seconds to play to cap a 13-4 spurt.
"We tried as hard as we could to make it back into the game, but we couldn't make that big stop," Friars coach Keno Davis said.