Angel Delgado and Isaiah Whitehead combined for 34 points and 24 rebounds in Seton Hall's win over St. John's. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)
NEWARK, NJ -- Coming off two losses by a grand total of nine points to two Top 10 teams, Seton Hall had already acquitted themselves well going into Wednesday's meeting with St. John's, despite their sub-.500 Big East record. For the Pirates to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, though, they needed to take care of business against their metropolitan area rivals.
Behind a double-double from Angel Delgado (15 points, 17 rebounds) and a game-high 19 points from Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall (14-6, 4-4 Big East) powered past a young St. John's team with a 39-11 run spanning the final ten minutes of the first half and first four of the second period, cruising to a 79-60 victory over a Red Storm team (7-14, 0-8 Big East) that has now lost eleven games in a row since their upset of Syracuse on December 13.
"I thought once we kind of settled in and locked in a little bit defensively, I thought we made them take some tough shots," head coach Kevin Willard assessed after the Pirates needed a few minutes to adjust early in the game. "We've had three really brutal games, and sometimes it's tough to get guys to realize you can't look at the record."
As a late-arriving crowd fought off a massive traffic snarl on the streets of Newark, Seton Hall's efforts were delayed in the opening stanza as St. John's got out to an 18-10 lead midway through the first half, taking advantage of the Pirates missing 12 of their first 17 shots. But a 17-4 run that saw the home team amass ten rebounds in just over six minutes swayed any and all momentum firmly to the side of the Pirates, who never relinquished their lead after a Desi Rodriguez lay-in put them ahead 24-22 with 4:25 to play before the intermission.
"We're naturally a good rebounding team," Willard said of his team's effort on the boards, where Seton Hall outmuscled St. John's by a 56-40 count. "We're not great on the rebounding side defensively, but we're one of the best offensive rebounding teams. We do that very well, and I think having Ish (Sanogo) and Desi gives us a chance to get some offensive rebounds, get some second chance points."
The edge in physicality and attack on the glass also contributed to the Pirates doubling up the Red Storm on the paint, outscoring them 44-22 on a night where only Christian Jones reached double figures for a St. John's team that could manage just a 29 percent shooting effort from the floor.
"The start of the second half cost us the game," a morose Chris Mullin lamented. "I thought they were just kind of doing whatever they wanted to do. It was disappointing."
As St. John's prepares for a Villanova team who swept Seton Hall earlier this month and enters Sunday's Madison Square Garden matinee ranked sixth in the nation, Seton Hall has an equally daunting task ahead of them, taking to the road Saturday to face a Creighton team who handily defeated them three weeks ago at the Prudential Center.
"We just weren't mentally prepared," Delgado said of Seton Hall's January 9 loss to the Bluejays. "They didn't get our best shot here. We're going into their house and play as hard as we can to get the win."