Isaiah Whitehead is no doubt satisfied after 21 points and eight assists in Seton Hall's win over Marquette. (Photo courtesy of SHUHoops.com)
By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)
Heading into last week's game against St. John's, Seton Hall had lost back-to-back games to Villanova and Xavier and sat at 3-4 in the Big East. Ahead of them was a critical stretch of four of their next five at home that, if they truly fancied themselves an NCAA Tournament team, they had to take advantage of.
Flash forward to three games later, and the Pirates have won three games in a row, having taken care of St. John's, played one of their best games of the year in getting revenge at Creighton from an earlier home loss, and Wednesday night, dispatched Marquette with a big second-half run by 17, 79-62. The Hall did it by dominating inside and closing strong all over, shooting 58% from the floor after halftime and turning it into an inevitability against one of the biggest and most-talented frontcourts in the conference.
My five cents:
1. Angels Among Us
Angel Delgado is playing out of his mind right now, and put up a masterful performance with his third-straight double-double, tying his career-high with 19 points and adding 13 rebounds on 8-9 shooting from the floor. And it wasn't just the numbers that stood out - he completely dominated inside against super-frosh Henry Ellenson and veteran Luke Fischer. While Ellenson also eventually managed 10 points and 10 rebounds and Fischer scored 11 of his 17 points in the first half, there was zero doubt that Delgado was the master inside, scoring with a variety of moves and just running circles around the highly-touted Ellenson. There were even a couple points down the stretch where he ripped rebounds away from both at once. Possibly the best game he's played this year.
2. Swarming D
Delgado had some help in neutralizing the Marquette bigs, though. Ish Sanogo and Michael Nzei played with just as much intensity on defense to keep Ellenson in particular at bay. Sanogo didn't even score and fouled out of the game, yet he made a major impact. Nzei had five points, four rebounds and a couple blocked shots (which Sanogo also had). The numbers don't tell the story with those two guys, but their hustle and minutes are so valuable. The turning point of the game was a sequence where Sanogo pulled down not one, but two offensive rebounds with the Pirates up 52-49. Sanogo then fed Isaiah Whitehead for a deep triple that kicked off a 12-2 run that essentially put the game away.
3. The Prophet Isaiah
The story of the season up through the new year with Isaiah Whitehead was his inconsistency. He'd have games where he'd look brilliant and then others where nothing would seem to go his way. Well, he was stellar again, coming off a virtuoso performance in front of 18,000+ Creighton fans to put up another game of First-Team All-Big East quality. He struggled a little in the first half, but exploded efficiently in the second to end up with 21 points, six rebounds, eight assists, three blocks (!) and two steals. He needed only 12 shots (6-12) to amass those numbers and just ran the show in near-perfect fashion. It's safe to say that if he keeps this up, the Pirates will be going places.
4. It's Pronounced Gor-DON
Ok, not really, but Derrick Gordon was quietly superb off the Seton Hall bench. Scoring 13points with a trio of assists and no turnovers while helping the team turn up the intensity that led to the 17-point win. Kevin Willard described him as a "winner" and he seems to be constantly making winning plays whenever we see him on both ends. He may not be adept from long range, but that makes the deep shots he does hit (he made the second of three straight threes in that aforementioned 12-2 run for the Pirates) matter a lot because you know he's going to bring the other stuff every time.
5. Big Game Ahead
With the victory, the Hall pulled into a three-way tie for third place in the Big East with Providence (who they've beaten on the road) and their next opponents, Georgetown. The Hoyas can look great one night and terrible the next, but their offense is a tough one to defend. It requires some smarts on that end as well as effort. Luckily, the Pirates are really playing well on the defensive side of the ball, so despite the relatively quick turnaround, I think Seton Hall will be hot enough to keep up, especially because the Prudential Center will be rocking on Saturday night in prime time.
Something the Pirates head coach talked about in his postgame presser was that his team is picking things up much quicker in practice and in walkthroughs than they did last year, a testament to the team's maturity being so much better this time around. You get the sense that he's right- Seton Hall hasn't really broken out big like they did last year early in conference play. Likewise, they haven't ever been too low. Right now, they're riding a three-game conference win streak. The last Pirates team to win four in a row in the Big East was the 2011-12 squad that featured Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope. That was also the last time the NCAAs seemed so close. The Hall still has work to do, but if they keep playing like they did on Wednesday, it's not unrealistic to think that this could finally be the year to dance in South Orange after 10 long years.