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 Rolls Past Xavier Behind Upperclassmen Power
By DENNIS CHAMBERSNEWARK — Returning to the NCAA tournament seemed like a daunting task for Seton Hall following a big loss to Villanova.
With just four games left in Big East play the Pirates needed to come out swinging down the stretch. First up on the slate was Xavier, and Seton Hall exercised their patented resilience en route to a 71-64 victory.
Grabbing their second win of the three game home stand seemed imperative to the Pirates tournament chances. Head coach KevinWillard recognizes the guts of his players in big-time situations.
“This team has a lot of heart,” Willard said. “We’ve had some really tough losses this year, and we had a really tough one on Saturday (against Villanova), but it was good to get a day off … We knew we had to win two-out-of-three, and this was a big game.”
Through an up and down season – Seton Hall hasn’t had more than two straight wins in Big East play – responding to a loss positively is key to reaching postseason play.
“I’m old school, every once in a while you get your ass kicked,” Willard said. “Sometimes you get beat up. That’s been my message to this team, ‘How do you get back up’. When you get beat down, wake up the next morning, the sun comes up, and let’s get ready for the next game. We didn’t dwell on it.”
Along with grinding out an important win Wednesday night, junior wing DesiRodriguez collected his 1,000th career point in a Pirates uniform. Rodriguez joined teammates KhadeenCarrington and AngelDelgado as the third active Pirate to reach such a threshold.
“It’s very cool,” Rodriguez said on his and his classmates’ feat. “Them guys are very good guys, and I’m excited for them as they’re excited for me. Scoring 1000 for Seton Hall, I’m excited. I just want to finish the season strong, get wins, and make the tournament. That’s our goal.”
Rodriguez scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting, and Delgado added 25 points and 13 rebounds – registering 22 double-doubles in 27 games. On a night where Carrington struggled from the field, hitting one shot in nine tries, he found other ways to help key a Pirate victory.
On the cusp of another tournament berth, Willard has his big three to thank. The head coach knows just how hard they’ve worked to get in the position they’re in.
“Desi came in as a back-up center in high school and never shot the basketball,” Willard said. “Now he’s shooting over 40 percent from three. Khadeen has evolved his game, and even when he’s struggling he has five assists and one turnover. Angel never touched the ball in high school. So to see where he was then to where he is now, it shows the amount of hard work they’ve put in.”
While the three juniors have Seton Hall firmly on the tournament bubble, a certain former teammate court-side Wednesday night represented what could have been for the Pirates.
Brooklyn Nets rookie – and former Pirate – IsaiahWhitehead’s decision to leap to the NBA left a return to the big dance squarely on three current 1000-point scorers shoulders.
“We just told each other we have to get better,” Rodriguez said about the three juniors following Whitehead’s departure. “We gotta play and have great chemistry with each other. That summer Angel was gonna go to the DR (Dominican Republic) but he stayed back with us to work on our game. We played a lot of pick up to get the team gelling together. We did that very well, we’re playing great basketball right now. We look forward to finishing the season strong and going to the tournament.”
Seton Hall now gears up to face DePaul on Feb. 25, followed by Georgetown at home on Feb. 28. Keeping their eye on each game as a must-win is the only choice the Pirates have as they enter the season’s final days.
“We could play the worst team in NCAA tournament, we have to play like it’s the national championship like coach said,” Delgado said. “That’s how we’re going to play every game.”
Big-time Recruits Show up for Seton Hall Win
Along with securing a victory Wednesday night, the Pirates hosted a laundry list of recruits to experience what life at The Rock could be like.
2018 Sports U teammates Naz Reid, Jahvon Quinerly and Luther Muhammad were on hand behind Seton Hall’s bench.
Accompanying the Sports U trio were guards Paul Mulcahy ’19 and Noah Farrakhan ’20. Seton Hall commit Darnell Brodie was also on hand.
Photo: Vincent Carchietta
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