Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Seton Hall’s Quest for the NCAA Tournament Begins With Win Over Dartmouth
NEWARK – For Seton Hall, last year was a tale of two teams. Through the first half of the season, the Pirates were 13-3, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament well within their sight. However the team went 3-12 to finish the season and failed to qualify for the Big Dance. Entering his sixth season as Seton Hall’s head coach, Kevin Willardis still looking for his first visit to the NCAA Tournament.
During the season opener, it was unclear which Seton Hall team we’d see this year. In what was supposed to be an easy victory, Seton Hall was unable to pull away from Dartmouth in the first half before ultimately winning 84-67.
Isaiah Whitehead went for 18 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. Derrick Gordon, making his Pirates debut, had 14 points and 5 assists, Khadeen Carrington scored 13 and Desi Rodriguez 12.
Heading into halftime, the Pirates were leading Big Green 39-33, a surprisingly small lead considering the Big East vs. Ivy League matchup, and looked like the team that finished last year 3-12.
Through the first 20 minutes, the Pirates played sloppy basketball. Seton Hall had 11 first half turnovers, leading to 10 Dartmouth points. The Pirates also struggled mightily from the free throw line, going 10-22, a mere 45.5 percent.
One good sign for Seton Hall was their domination of the paint. The Pirates took advantage of the size differential between the two teams, outscoring Dartmouth 20-8 inside the paint. Seton Hall also out-blocked their opponents 4-0 through the first 20 minutes.
In the second half, Seton Hall looked like a team that belonged in the Tournament. Behind the play of Whitehead, the Pirates were able to extend their lead to double-digits, and kept it there for a majority of the half. Seton Hall ended the contest up 17 points. However, their woes from the free throw line continued as the Pirates finished 22-43 (51 percent). Seton Hall found a lot more success from the field, shooting 61.7 percent for the game and 50.0 percent from the three-point line.
“Free throws… If we make our free throws, I’m playing the end of the bench for most of the second half…” said Willard. “Give them credit, they took advantage of us not making free throws.”
The Pirates suffered a scary moment when Whitehead fell to the floor with eight and a half minutes remaining in the game. However the guard was back on the court a few minutes later.
Whitehead, the former McDonald’s All-American, is coming off a solid freshmen year, where he was named to the Big East All-Rookie team. Whitehead is Seton Hall’s most talented player, and he showed it in the season opener. However, similar to the rest of the team, Whitehead could not find his stroke from the free throw line, shooting 6-for-11.
“For his first game playing (the point) and being the guy, I thought he played really well,” Willard said after the game. “He’s going to get better and better and better.”
After winning last year’s Big East Rookie of the Year award, Angel Delgado began his season with 7 points and 9 rebounds. He andIsmael Sanogo (9 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks) played well inside the paint for the Pirates.
“I’ve been raving about Ish,” Willard said. “He put in a lot of hard work and he got in and played with a lot of composure, played with a lot of energy.”
Delgado and Sanogo’s rebounding helped clinch the victory. The Pirates out-rebounded Big Green 45-27, as Dartmouth did not seem to have an answer for Seton Hall on the boards.
For a team hoping to not only make the NCAA Tournament but also do some damage once there, Friday’s victory is a good start for Seton Hall. However the Pirates will have to step it up with games against much stronger opponents coming up. Willard will need his team to make free throws and be more careful with the ball if he wants his first spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.