Desi Rodriguez was one of five Pirates in double figures and two with double-doubles, as his 18 points and 11 rebounds helped Seton Hall hold off Troy Thursday night. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
NEWARK, NJ -- Five players ended the evening in double figures as Seton Hall (7-2) overcame a sluggish first half to hold serve at home, defeating Troy (4-5) by the final of 78-69 on Thursday at the Prudential Center.
"We're a little more ahead than I thought we'd be," Kevin Willard remarked as the Pirates, led by 20 points and seven assists from Isaiah Whitehead in the winning effort, fell behind early in the first half before catching up in the final two minutes before the intermission. "I didn't think we'd be 7-2."
While Whitehead was the leader in the clubhouse from a scoring standpoint, both Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado posted double-doubles, the former punctuating his 18 points and 11 rebounds with two highlight reel-worthy dunks as he exploded from the wing against the Trojans' combination of zone and man-to-man defense.
"I think he's giving himself some easy opportunities," Willard said of Rodriguez, the oft-forgotten sophomore swingman in a class headlined by Whitehead, Delgado, and Khadeen Carrington, who tallied 11 points of his own. "The way he's shooting has really been helpful, considering that's not one of our strengths. More than anything, he gives us another rebounder that we didn't have at that position last year."
What may appear as a routine victory was not the case in the early going, however, as Troy countered the Pirates' 11-2 run to start the proceedings with a 16-2 spurt of their own, which put the visiting Trojans in control heading into the latter stages of the opening stanza. Following a three-pointer from Troy's Jordon Varnado, whose 25 points led all participants in addition to his 11 rebounds, a Rodriguez layup kick-started a 17-3 run to close the first half with a 36-30 Pirate lead, one they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
"We get a little stagnant at times," Willard admitted, addressing his team's lackluster beginning. "We're a very unselfish team, but what happens a lot with us is sometimes we get selfish in the fact that we don't cut hard, we don't screen as well, we get a little slow in the halfcourt offensive end. We prepped a lot for their zone, but then when they went man-to-man, I thought they did a really good job of just clogging up the lanes. We got stuck a little bit just trying to let guys make plays toward the end of the clock."
The second half, although the Pirates led for the duration of it, was one where Seton Hall was not able to put Troy away until late in the game. The Trojans answered nearly every attempt by the home side to ice the outcome, including a three from Wesley Person with 1:41 to play that brought the visitors within nine points. On the ensuing possession, however, Whitehead; who seemed to handle Troy's zone defense very well in an encouraging sign before Big East play begins, buried a three from the left wing to extend the Pirate lead to twelve, at 76-64, essentially wrapping it up.
"I'm really happy with his progress," Willard said of Whitehead. "I'm really happy with Khadeen and Isaiah both, to be honest with you. The weird thing about Isaiah is he just has bad stretches towards the end of games. We get up 12 or 13, and he has a two-minute stretch that makes his numbers look good, but I think he's doing a heck of a job. Once he sees the ball go in from three, it's going to give him a little more confidence shooting the ball."
Seton Hall resumes their four-game homestand on Sunday, when the Pirates welcome in-state rival Saint Peter's to Newark for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff.