Sunday, February 28, 2016

Seton Hall zips up Xavier, solidifies NCAA Tournament resume

Desi Rodriguez eclipsed career-high point total for second time in a week, scoring 27 as Seton Hall upset fifth-ranked Xavier on senior day at the Prudential Center. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

NEWARK, NJ -- Seton Hall was in a favorable position to end their ten-year NCAA Tournament drought even before Sunday afternoon. They leave the Prudential Center today in even better standing, with a signature win tucked firmly within their pockets.

A 9-0 run to begin the game was all the Pirates (21-7, 11-5 Big East) would need on a senior day where the program paid tribute to fifth-year guard Derrick Gordon, disposing of fifth-ranked Xavier (25-4, 13-4 Big East) with a 90-81 victory whose final score appears much closer than the actual game let on.

"I think the biggest thing is that we offensive rebounded really well," said head coach Kevin Willard after Seton Hall picked up 16 caroms on their end of the basketball, and went to halftime with a plus-10 advantage on the glass against the Musketeers, who came into today's contest ranked 13th in the nation in rebounding margin. "I have a theory that if you can offensive rebound, it's your best transition defense, because it stops them from getting out and going."

Of the Pirates' 16 offensive boards, nine of them were amsssed by either Angel Delgado (17 points, 8 rebounds) or Ismael Sanogo, whose nine total rebounds complemented a strong defensive effort against Xavier's Trevon Bluiett, whom he held to just five points in the opening stanza.

"Xavier's the kind of team that tries to play more physical than anybody," Delgado explained, revealing his strategy to attack their 1-3-1 zone. "We just had it in our mind that we've got to play physical and show these guys who we are."

Seton Hall did that impressively, ending the first half on a 15-4 run after Xavier managed to fight back from their lackluster beginning, going to the locker room with a 45-26 cushion. But as the visitors slowly scaled the mountain in front of them, the Pirates held serve, keeping the game a double-digit affair until an inconsequential layup in the final minute provided the final margin of victory.

"To me, at least from a Xavier standpoint, the last eight minutes of the (first) half were our undoing," Chris Mack recounted as the Musketeers resembled nothing close to the team that defeated top-ranked Villanova on Wednesday. "From the very beginning of the game, they (Seton Hall) were amped. They played extremely hard, and they had a desperation that you can feel on the floor."

With the win, Seton Hall is, for all intents and purposes, all but in the NCAA Tournament field after securing their biggest win of the year. However, as has remained the case all season, such grand sights are the last thing on the Pirates' minds.

"Again, it's not my decision," Willard reiterated. "All I know is I'm going to enjoy this win, I'm going to let my players enjoy it tonight, and then I've got to get in and I've got to figure out Butler."

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