Seton Hall and DePaul kicked things off in the Big East Tipoff* Marathon on Saturday, and despite some late dodging of bullets thanks to missed free throws and ill-timed fouls, came away with their seventh-straight win by a final score of 78-74. Here are five thoughts from the morning action in Newark:
1. Whitehead Watch
Give the All-American credit- he seems to have really figured out the point guard position. With a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his last three games, Isaiah Whitehead carried the Hall in the second half, scoring 14 of his team-high 18 after halftime to go along with five assists and no turnovers. Whitehead ended up with 18 points and was one off his career-best with nine helpers against three turnovers for the game overall, and if not for his contributions (including a couple threes that went down for him) in the second stanza, chances are pretty good Seton Hall loses this one despite shooting well over 50 percent on two-pointers and turning 19 DePaul turnovers into 18 points on the other end.
2. Demonized Again
The win on Saturday for the Pirates broke a three-game losing streak in the series against DePaul, who always seems to give the Pirates trouble ever since they blew the doors off the Hall in 2012 in Chicago to knock SHU off the bubble (not that I'm bitter for those who know who I am, but I digress). Billy Garrett, Jr. was outstanding with 20 points and eight assists to lead the way, but in the first game against the Blue Demons without noted Pirates-killer Jamee Crockett, Seton Hall got the last laugh. For a core group that probably remembered being swept last season by DePaul, that can be removed from memory.
The Pirates had a few chances to put the game on ice before the final buzzer sounded and came up empty on all of them. Derrick Gordon and Angel Delgado each missed a pair of free throws with under a minute left, and up three with 3.2 ticks remaining, Gordon uncharacteristically made a freshman mistake, fouling Garrett with 0.6 seconds left while shooting a three. Garrett, an 84 percent shooter from the stripe, then missed the first, allowing Seton Hall to escape with the win.
The Pirates are 12-2 and 2-0 in conference, but every once in a while, something pops up that reminds everyone that they still have a while to go before really turning that next corner. Which leads to....
4. Desi Grounded
I'll admit it- it's fun to watch Desi Rodriguez play. His bouncy athleticism and huge jams are some of the reasons he's a crowd favorite. He came out in the first half and channeled a little of Kevin Garnett, swatting a layup away after the whistle and being very aggressive in general. Kevin Willard, with 5:27 remaining in the first half, subbed him out and per comments in the postgame, was not too thrilled with the decision. According to Willard, he said some things that "players don't say," and was promptly benched for the entire second half. It's the first time that I can recall that Willard has made such a move. For the Pirates' sake, Rodriguez would be well-served to learn whatever lesson his coach wants him to, because when the Bronx native is playing well, he's a difference-maker.
5. Among The Trees
They don't do it with a heck of a lot of fanfare, but Seton Hall's frontcourt continues to play well. Angel Delgado tallied his seventh double-double in a row with 12 points and 12 rebounds while Ish Sanogo (playing on a sore ankle) put up 10 points, five rebounds, two blocks, two steals and even two assists. Willard has been impressed all year with what he's gotten from the power forward spot (Sanogo/Mike Nzei), and they compliment the guards/wings well alongside Delgado. The Pirates' style all year has been to attack the paint with some Delgado post-ups sprinkled in. What Sanogo/Nzei have done very well all season is clean up the mess, so to speak. They don't need the ball to make an impact, and are thus making a very big impact on this 12-2 Seton Hall team.
Next up for Seton Hall is a trip to The Pavilion at Villanova, a place that has been a true house of horrors. Having not won there since February of 1994 (under then-head coach PJ Carlesimo; yes, it's been THAT long), the Pirates will look to snap that nearly 22-year long skid on Wednesday against the consensus favorite in the conference.