Desi Rodriguez scored go-ahead layup in final seconds as Seton Hall overcame lackluster first half to hand 16th-ranked South Carolina its first loss in game Pirates needed for NCAA Tournament seeding. (Photo by SNY)
NEW YORK -- In need of a marquee win to erase any lingering doubt from last month's trip to Florida, Seton Hall returned to the scene of its biggest triumph nine months prior.
And much like their Big East championship win, it took a clutch basket in the final seconds to seal the deal.
Desi Rodriguez, the high school teammate of Isaiah Whitehead before following him to South Orange, did for the Pirates (8-2) what the Brooklyn Nets rookie did at Madison Square Garden last season, providing the deciding factor with a driving bucket that gave Seton Hall the lead against 16th-ranked South Carolina with 11.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
Leading 66-64, The Hall got a crucial stop when South Carolina's PJ Dozier; who had torched the Pirates all night en route to 20 points, missed a three-pointer that would have shifted the lead back to the Gamecocks. However, he would be handed a second chance after freshman Myles Powell missed the second of two free throws with a mere four-tenths of a second on the clock. Dozier's desperation heave from three-quarters court was on line and had the distance, but rimmed out at the buzzer to hand Seton Hall a 67-64 victory over South Carolina, who suffered its first loss of the season after opening with eight consecutive victories.
"Coach told me to take it out and look for Desi on the baseline," said Khadeen Carrington of the go-ahead bucket by Rodriguez. "I saw Desi coming off and I knew he could take him, so I just gave it to him and spaced out."
"It was either going to be Desi on the wing against man-to-man or Desi on the wing against zone, and on that side; him ripping through to his left, he's really tough," head coach Kevin Willard said of the intent to give the ball to the junior swingman. "He was fresh because of his foul trouble, he sat out six minutes. I wanted somebody fresh with the ball, and he made a really good power move."
After a first half in which Seton Hall was fortunate to go to the locker room only trailing by seven points due to an excellent effort at the free throw line, missing only one of their twelve attempts to combat an anemic 26 percent shooting display from the floor, the Pirates went to work after the intermission and reverted to the grind-it-out nature that was so vital to their championship form in this very building last March. A 10-4 run brought The Hall within one possession just over four minutes into the second half before the Pirates and Gamecocks traded baskets entering the stretch run.
South Carolina would retake the lead on Justin McKie's three-pointer to make it 60-59 with 3:53 to play, but four unanswered points by Carrington; whose 21 markers led all scorers, put the Pirates ahead with a cushion that soon stretched to four on a Rodriguez free throw. The Gamecocks tied the score again with a jumper by Maik Kotsar and two McKie foul shots before Rodriguez drove inside with the last of his 16 points to put Seton Hall ahead for good, giving the reigning Big East champions just enough to close out their fifth consecutive win at the "World's Most Famous Arena."
Two more Pirates posted double-figure scoring totals, as Powell poured in 11 points off the bench and Angel Delgado added his sixth double-double of the season, posting 13 points and 12 rebounds. Seton Hall is 6-0 when Delgado records a double-double. Playing the role of unsung hero once again was Ismael Sanogo, who only scored two points but set a career-high in rebounds, pulling down a dozen boards and was responsible for arguably the biggest shift of the final stanza.
"You don't see a lot of what he does in the stat sheets, but he guarded Dozier the last nine minutes of the game," said Willard of Sanogo. "Dozier was killing us, we switched Ish on him and he shut him down for the most part."
Seton Hall takes the floor in their penultimate non-conference contest on Saturday, welcoming Delaware to the Prudential Center. Until then, they return home with a statement victory, one that will undoubtedly resonate come Selection Sunday.
"It's kind of embedded in our brain that wins like this travel," said Carrington of the magnitude of Monday night's victory. "At the end of the year, when March comes along and the committee's watching, games like that and wins go a long way."