Seton Hall exults after holding off valiant Rutgers to win Garden State Hardwood Classic for third consecutive year. (Photo by SHUHoops.com)
NEWARK, NJ -- Angel Delgado summed up Seton Hall's sentiment toward in-state rival Rutgers last week with a bold proclamation, stating that even if the Scarlet Knights were the top-ranked team in the nation, his Pirates would still walk away victorious.
The Dominican big man got his chance to validate his boastful decree Friday, and did so in a big way, tallying 19 points and 16 rebounds as Seton Hall shook off a nine-point halftime deficit to defeat Rutgers by the final of 72-61, leading the way in the Pirates' sixth consecutive win and final contest before Big East play begins on Wednesday.
"I feel great, because we keep showing we're the best team in New Jersey," a relieved Delgado remarked after earning Joe Calabrese Most Valuable Player honors in the Garden State Hardwood Classic for a second straight year. "I just want to win so bad, and the guys told me 'we got your back, we'll keep giving you the ball.'"
And so it went for Delgado and Seton Hall (10-2) before a capacity crowd of 10,481. The junior forward struggled his way through just four points on 2-for-10 shooting in a first half that ended with Rutgers (11-2) bringing a 32-23 advantage into the locker room after limiting the Pirates to eight field goals and a mere 24 percent shooting display in the opening stanza.
Delgado revealed the maturation of his game over the final 20 minutes, however, fighting his way into the lane and willing both himself and his team to clutch baskets down the stretch, helping salt away a game that a younger player may not have re-entered so quickly.
"A couple of years ago, I didn't know what to do, but now I've gotten a little more experience," said Delgado of fighting through the adversity. "You've got to play two halves. If you play bad the first half, you've got to bring it in the second half. That's what I did, and that's what the coaches told me too."
As Seton Hall made their run, Rutgers punched back, even taking a 53-51 lead with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation. Ultimately, though, foul trouble and a more athletic Seton Hall team wore down the Scarlet Knights; but not before proving they could withstand haymakers from the reigning Big East champions, who now travel to Omaha to raise the curtain on their title defense against an undefeated Creighton team that owns arguably the league's most imposing home court advantage.
"That coach is doing a really good job," said Delgado of how Steve Pikiell has changed the culture in Piscataway. "They showed us they can beat us, but we've already got to forget about that and get into the Big East right now. We already finished good, now let's play in the best league in the country."