If you expected a runaway Seton Hall win on Friday night, you were mistaken. It was a Pirate win, but was by no means a runaway.
A gigantic second half in front of a sold-out crowd at Prudential Center vaulted the Pirates to a 72-61 win over their in-state rivals. And here is the Holiday Edition of the 5 thoughts:
Ok, time to give credit where credit is due, and a huge amount has to be given to Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. It is abundantly clear from watching Rutgers tonight, and by watching them the last couple seasons under Eddie Jordan, that it really is night and day (with the hashtag up top being what Rutgers is using this year). The former Stony Brook head man has gotten the Scarlet Knights to play hard and smart (mostly) on both ends, and that in and of itself is the reason why they out-played the Pirates in the first half and ended up with a nine-point lead.
Seton Hall was stifled by the size of the Rutgers front line and struggled to find any wiggle room in the first 20 minutes. Some of it was the Pirates' doing, but Rutgers was playing that well defensively, holding the home team to just 24% shooting.
Defense is all about effort, and under Eddie Jordan, Rutgers was sorely lacking in that so many times the last few years. Pikiell has changed the culture of the program, and tonight showed it.
2. Second Half Surge
Yet again, after a slow first half, the Pirates came out swinging in the second. They pushed the ball up the floor and got a couple of easy hoops, and it just seemed like their focus was much better. This is not something new for the Pirates, who routinely play great in the second half.
"The first four minutes of the second half was the difference in the game," Pikiell said. "We were locking them up in the first half and then we gave them freebies."
"From a defensive standpoint, this team understands what we want to do," Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said of the half-to-half turnaround. "For some reason, when it comes to the offensive end, they zone me out a little bit. At halftime, we showed them their numbers, and I told them how good a defensive team Rutgers has become. We went into halftime and I said 'you guys tried your way - now you have to try my way.'"
Well, his way worked. It started with Khadeen Carrington, who couldn't find a rhythm in the first half, getting involved with scoring. The junior scored 20 points, 14 of them in the second session, and that started to loosen things up for the Pirates, who were right in the game from the start of the half because of those easy hoops.
But that led to more good things for the Hall, like...
3. Angel's Takeover
Angel Delgado was 2-9 from the floor at one point in this game and the size of the Scarlet Knights wasn't allowing him to get where he wanted. But then, particularly down the stretch, he turned it on offensively, dropping his favorite jump-hooks in the post and also getting a few putbacks. He finished with his second straight Joe Calabrese Award (given to the MVP of the Seton Hall- Rutgers game for years now), contributing his sixth double-double in a row with 19 points and 16 rebounds (with 15 points and half of those rebounds coming in the second half).
"Even though he was struggling, I was glad our guys kept throwing him the ball," Willard said. "Earlier in his career, if he started 2-for-9 he would have been done defensively, he would have been done rebounding, and he's matured. This year, he didn't get too upset."
But while Angel got the MVP trophy, there's another player who may have been the co-MVP of the game....
4. Ish Happens
Of course. Ismael Sanogo was not just big, he was monstrous in the second half on defense. Longtime hoops scribe Jerry Carino said afterwards that he may be the lowest-scoring best player in the nation, and you won't get any argument from me. Sanogo had 3 points in the game, but smashed his career-high with 16 boards, 7 on the offensive glass, as well as two blocks and three steals. He locked up the Scarlet Knights' post players and forced Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson to beat them.
There was one particular sequence I would like to highlight. With the Pirates trailing by one with just over six minutes left, Sanogo came up with a steal. Then, after rebounding a Carrington miss, he got the putback (his only field goal of the whole game). On the ensuing defensive possession, he took a charge.
Offensively, Madison Jones hit a three and Desi Rodriguez followed with a slam dunk to turn a four-point lead into a nine-point lead with two minutes left, but the game really turned on that sequence by Sanogo.
5. Rivalry Returns?
The last few years, Seton Hall - Rutgers has been anything but competitive. With the Scarlet Knights languishing in the Big Ten and the Pirates surging, plus the fact that they only play once a year now, the juice just wasn't there the last couple meetings. This time, it was there.
"I thought it was great," Pikiell said of the environment. "I think people saw good basketball tonight. I think people enjoy this. I think we'll be back and more competitive the next time. I think this is great for New Jersey- I look forward to playing them next year in our gym."
Willard offered his thoughts on what the rivalry (with Rutgers much-improved) meant for the state and the area as well.
"I think the more teams that are good in this area, the more local kids are going to sit there and say 'hey, this is a great place to play basketball. The more the local teams are good, the more attention we'll get, you get a crowd like this- it can only be beneficial for all the teams involved."
Amen to that, but for now, the Pirates reign in the Garden State Hardwood Classic.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!