Angel Delgado made history with 22 rebounds, but his efforts were not enough as Seton Hall suffered narrow defeat against 11th-ranked Butler. (Photo by the Asbury Park Press)
NEWARK, NJ -- Just as Superman had kryptonite, so too does Seton Hall with Butler.
Winless in six regular season meetings with the Bulldogs, and victorious by just one point in their lone victory; a 2014 Big East Tournament triumph, the Pirates set out to slay the Indianapolis-based dragon once and for all, and looked poised to pull off what would have qualified as a substantial upset heading into the final media timeout of regulation.
But it was not to be, as the visiting Bulldogs regained control with nine unanswered points to follow a Seton Hall surge that tied the score at 49 with 4:49 to play, using that burst to hold on for a 61-54 victory over the reigning Big East champions. The gritty win sent Butler (18-3, 7-2 Big East) into a first-place tie in the league standings with Villanova, whom they defeated at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 4, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season in the process.
Butler also overcame an historic night from Angel Delgado, who amassed a career-high 22 rebounds just three days after securing 20 boards in Sunday's victory over St. John's. The junior forward is the first player to post back-to-back 20-rebound games in Big East Conference play, but the distinction was an empty honor in the locker room after The Hall ultimately could not get the job done against a Butler team ranked eleventh in the nation.
"I feel like I got two rebounds right now because we didn't win," a dejected Delgado stated following a performance that helped the Pirates (13-7, 3-5 Big East) earn a 52-43 edge on the glass that unfortunately went for naught. "If we would have won, I would have been happy, that's how I am. But I've got to forget I got 20 rebounds. I just have to focus and get 20 rebounds and the win."
Seton Hall's defensive efforts were on full display on this night, and kept them within earshot through a rock fight of a first half in which the Pirates made just seven field goals going into the intermission. Trailing 26-19 to start the second half, The Hall then surrendered an 11-5 run to extend their deficit to 13 points, as Butler led 37-24 with 16:32 remaining on the clock.
The Pirates battled back, however, using a combination of Delgado's two-way play and the determination of Desi Rodriguez to forge a 14-2 spurt that brought them to the precipice of the lead, trimming Butler's cushion to just one point at the 9:50 mark. The Bulldogs then got a three-pointer from Kelan Martin to stem the tide and take a four-point advantage, only for Seton Hall to score seven of the next nine points, taking the lead for the first time since Delgado's opening basket when Myles Powell's trifecta cut through the net to tip the scales in favor of the home team by a slim 45-44 margin with 6:33 left to play.
From there, both teams traded shots against one another, with the Pirates tying the score at 49-all as a jumper by Khadeen Carrington; who managed 12 points while also battling a dislocated finger, accounted for the equalizer. Down 51-49 inside of four minutes remaining, Rodriguez appeared to be in position for the game-tying basket, but his layup attempt spun out of the cylinder, the rebound earned by Martin in what essentially became a game-changing sequence. Seton Hall had one last chance to shoot themselves back into contention in the final minute, trailing 59-54 with 12 seconds to go, but an uncontested three-point attempt by Powell rimmed out and fell into the hands of Butler's Tyler Wideman.
Delgado, Rodriguez and Carrington led the Pirates with a dozen points apiece, while Butler saw four players reach double figures in the winning effort, led by Andrew Chrabascz's 16 markers. Martin (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Kethan Savage (15 points, 10 rebounds) registered double-doubles as the Bulldogs upped their record against Seton Hall to 7-1 since joining the Big East in 2013, leaving some to question whether or not Wednesday's game was a missed opportunity for The Hall, something head coach Kevin Willard dismissed.
"We have ten league games left," Willard reassured, quelling any sense of the loss representing one that got away in the standings. "We've got a lot of opportunities. That's the great thing about this league, it's not like this is the only one you're going to get. Obviously it's a big opportunity, but it's not the only opportunity."