Desi Rodriguez added another highlight-reel dunk to his ledger in Seton Hall's win over Delaware Saturday night. (Photo by Gabe Rhodes/Seton Hall University Athletics)
NEWARK, NJ -- Angel Delgado did Saturday what he does best against smaller lineups, yet it almost did not turn out that way.
Seton Hall's all-Big East forward sprained his ankle shortly before tipoff against Delaware, but one would hardly suspect that was the case as he powered his way to a career-high-tying 22 points and outmuscled the visiting Blue Hens with 15 rebounds as the Pirates led wire-to-wire in an 81-68 win, their fifth straight since a November 27 loss to Stanford.
"I stepped on somebody's foot," Delgado admitted when asked about the origin of his injury, which hardly appeared to be a factor as Seton Hall (9-2) disposed of Delaware in their final tuneup before Friday's clash with in-state and former conference rival Rutgers. "It still hurts, but I'm going to be good for the next game. I was fighting through it because I didn't want to lose the game."
"I said, 'if you're going to play, you have to play your normal 32 minutes,'" said head coach Kevin Willard, who quipped that resting Delgado would sacrifice his average of nearly twelve rebounds per game entering Saturday's contest. "I don't think he understood what I meant at first, but that's when he decided to play. He played great."
On a night where Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez shot a combined 8-for-25 from the floor, the Pirates got a personal best outing from Madison Jones, who added 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting to complement a stellar floor game where he contributed four assists and just as many steals without committing a turnover.
"I just felt very comfortable," the fifth-year senior remarked. "We finally got back from traveling and got back in the gym with the coaches. It just felt very good, being confident on both sides of the court."
"I think Madison has played well all year," Willard echoed. "I think he's played very steady. I was very happy with his confidence to step in and shoot the ball, and I really thought he gave us a good boost on defense."
Although Delaware (5-5) did not lead at any point during the contest, the Blue Hens were within earshot for most of the night, relying on 21 points from Anthony Mosley and freshman Ryan Daly posting 19 points and seven boards off the bench to keep the contest close. Trailing 34-26 at halftime, the visitors were still within single digits with six minutes to play in regulation before a Rodriguez dunk put Seton Hall ahead 64-53. The teams traded baskets for another minute before the Pirates went on a 10-2 run to salt away a workmanlike victory heading into Friday's showdown with the Scarlet Knights, who are off to a 10-1 start under head coach Steve Pikiell. And even though the rivalry between the two schools is not at the same level following Rutgers' exodus from the Big East, the meaning of the game is still not lost on the Pirates, who seek a fifth consecutive win against the State University of New Jersey.
"I want to keep that trophy," said Delgado in reference to the Garden State Hardwood Classic hardware that has remained in Seton Hall's trophy case since it was created in 2013. "They could be No. 1 in the country and we're still going to beat them. I'm coming with the mindset that we're not losing that game. That's how I feel, and that's how I'm always going to feel."