At Providence two weeks ago, as Seton Hall nearly finished climbing out of a 25-point hole, the Pirates gave up a crucial put-back that reversed momentum. During the ensuing timeout there were some tense words about the miscue. The player who got beat for the rebound, Sandro Mamukelashvili, grew a little defensive and told his teammates, essentially, to pipe down.

Quincy McKnight didn’t want to hear it.

“I’m like, ‘Nah, I’m going to yell at you,’” McKnight said. “Afterwards I smacked him on the butt and said, ‘Let’s go bro.’ Sometimes you need to yell at a guy and let him know, ‘You’re good. Get in a good head space.’”

The Hall lost the game but Mamukelashvili played like a man possessed the following week, leading back-to-back victories. Nobody was prouder of the junior forward than McKnight, who has become the Pirates’ coach on the court.

“You want to have good program? Everybody has to be accountable,” the senior guard said Wednesday, after practice. “You’ve got to be accountable for a box-out, to be accountable for your man on defense, to be accountable for your help-side defense, to be accountable for knowing the plays on offense, for screening.”

This stuff doesn't show up on the stat sheet. Only in the win column.

“That’s why we’ve been so good this year,” McKnight said. “Everybody knows their role and everybody does what they’re told to do, so when you get on the court you’re not running around like a chicken with your head cut off.”

These words easily could have been spoken by Hall coach Kevin Willard.

“Coach empowers us to be vocal leaders because he’s not on the court,” McKnight said. “We’re the ones playing the game. That’s what he’s harped on. That’s what I try to do.”

Indeed, he has done it. Seton Hall sits at No. 13 in the Associated Press poll with a record of 20-7 overall and 12-3 in the Big East right now because, more than any other Pirate, McKnight channels Willard on the court. The under-recruited kid from Bridgeport, Conn. has barked and hustled and willed his way into the Pirate Pantheon. In the Big East era, he is the program’s most impactful two-year transfer and one-half of its greatest backcourt.

On Saturday, as Seton Hall visits Marquette (18-9, 8-7), McKnight will attempt to put the finishing touches on his magnum opus — another lock-down of Marquette All-American Markus Howard.

“When I came here, I didn’t think we would be like this,” he said. “I never really thought I’d be part of a top 10 program.”

He’s not just part of it. He’s the guts of it.

Out of tragedy, a passion

The formative event of McKnight’s childhood took place when he was 13. He lost his mother, Vanessa Bruce, to cancer.

“His team had just won the diocesan championship, and all the parents were out celebrating,” his father, Terry McKnight, said. “She said she wanted to go home.”

Later that night, Vanessa wound up on the hospital with a stage-four cancer diagnosis.

“A few weeks later, she passed,” Terry McKnight said. “We were at the height of our life, happy as heck, and then we hit rock bottom.”

The loss could have derailed the young man’s future. Instead, it fueled him forward.

“It gives me a passion to continue her legacy,” Quincy said. “That’s the reason I play hard all the time.”

That motor was evident in the spring of 2017, when he showed up at Seton Hall for an open gym after transferring out of Sacred Heart University. His performance earned a scholarship offer on the spot.

“We knew he was tough,” Willard said. “I thought he could be a really good defender, but I didn’t know he had that competitive drive that he does.”

It shone through during McKnight’s sit-out season. His one-on-one battles with senior guard Khadeen Carrington in practice turned everyone’s heads.

“People didn’t see, the year he sat out, how much he pushed that older group,” Willard said. “If you didn’t show up, Khadeen would embarrass you.”

Added McKnight: “Deno made me a better player. That’s why I am the defender I am now.”

That defender limited the prodigious Howard to 10-of-46 shooting over three contests last season. Last month, he teamed with understudy Shavar Reynolds to hound the surefire All-American into 8-of-22 shooting.

“Nowadays a lot of guys, when they score the ball, they run off at the mouth,” McKnight said. “Markus, he doesn’t do that. He puts the ball in the basket and plays the game the right way. The battles we’ve had, they’ve been great. Him not talking help me stay composed, because sometimes when I get to talking, it throws me off.”

Never a 'me' guy

The other secret to McKnight’s success is his chemistry with his backcourt mate, All-American Myles Powell. They didn’t meet at that open gym (Powell was sick), but six weeks later, as they sat next to each other in a summer class, the connection was immediate.

“From that first day on campus, it was over,” McKnight said. “I’m a willing passer. I’ve never been a ‘me’ guy. I’ve never been that way my whole life.”

McKnight’s numbers are impressive. He ranks second in the Big East in assists (5.3 per game), third in free-throw shooting (.853), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.32 to 1) and sixth in steals (1.59 per game). Whether he gets the recognition he deserves from the league’s coaches — Big East Defensive Player of the Year and second-team all-conference — remains to be seen.

One thing is certain: When he takes the court for Senior Night ceremonies March 4, an arena full of Seton Hall fans will give him a prolonged standing ovation.

His dad, who comes to just about every game, will be among them. Terry McKnight already has a space picked out on the shelf for Quincy’s college degree — right next to his own.

“Very proud of him, where he’s come from and what he’s been through,” Terry said. “He’s excelled everywhere he’s been.”

Quincy McKnight’s high place in the Pirate Pantheon is secure. Aside from Andrew Gaze, who spent only a few memorable months in South Orange with the 1988-89 Final Four squad, no transfer has made so large an impact in this program’s modern era.

“It’s happy and sad at the same time,” McKnight said of his college career hitting the homestretch. “But we still have goals we want to complete. The reason I came here was to win a Big East championship and make it far in March.”

His fire is igniting that push. There is no stat for it.

HALL OF A BACKCOURT

Here are Jerry Carino’s top five Seton Hall backcourts of the Big East era.

1. Quincy McKnight and Myles Powell (2019-20): The journey isn't over, but the Hall’s never had two first/second team All-Big East players in the same backcourt. That could change.

2. Gerald Greene and John Morton (1988-89): They famously fueled the Final Four run with rugged defense and Morton’s clutch shot-making.

3. Bryan Caver and Terry Dehere (1992-93): Caver did the dirty work and Dehere was an All-American on the only Hall team to sweep the Big East titles.

4. Shaheen Holloway, Rimas Kaukenas and Darius Lane (1999-2000): This three-headed monster soon will consist of two SHU Hall of Famers.

5. Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington (2015-16): Their collaboration during the Big East Tournament title run was nothing short of spectacular.

jcarino@gannettnj.com.