Angel Delgado signs autographs for some of his younger admirers moments after his 25-point, 13-rebound night helped Seton Hall survive Xavier. (Photo by John Fanta/Seton Hall University Athletics)
NEWARK, NJ -- As a veteran of last year's team that fought their way off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament, Angel Delgado knew what was at stake.
The junior big man has been a vocal leader both in the locker room and on the hardwood for Seton Hall as they seek an encore of their successful late-season surge twelve months later, and with his Pirates needing another star turn to preserve their at-large hopes, he delivered.
Delgado feasted on Xavier's smaller front line, leading the way with 25 points and 13 rebounds as Seton Hall shook off a gritty Musketeer team's physical first half and drove away down the stretch for a 71-64 victory at the Prudential Center to salvage their three-game homestand with a pair of wins, the first coming a week ago Wednesday against nationally-ranked Creighton.
"We needed this win so bad, and the guys knew it," Delgado candidly intimated as the Pirates (17-10, 7-8) moved closer to the top half of the Big East standings in victory, now sitting a half-game behind Marquette and Xavier for fourth place in the conference. "We came to play today, and we played hard. That's why we got the win."
Desi Rodriguez chipped in with 22 points alongside Delgado's 25, which were supplemented with 13 rebounds for his ninth consecutive double-double as Seton Hall emerged from a rock fight in the opening minutes with a battle-hardened look that took control with a 10-2 run early in the second half and gained separation from Xavier (18-10, 8-7 Big East) with a second 10-2 spurt later in the period. J.P. Macura's 22 points led the visitors in the losing effort.
A 31-30 halftime deficit and an ensuing 7-3 Xavier run soon gave way to Delgado asserting himself out of the gates following the intermission, collecting five straight points to tie the score at 38-all, with a layup on the heels of a Myles Powell three-pointer giving the Pirates a 43-41 advantage. The Musketeers would soon tie the score shortly thereafter, but Rodriguez and Powell gave The Hall a lead it would never relinquish with back-to-back baskets in the span of 39 seconds. Then, with the Pirates clinging to a 55-53 lead with just over seven minutes to play, Delgado found his way inside off a feed from Ismael Sanogo and proceeded to lay it in and draw the foul to complete a conventional three-point play. Xavier would not get within one possession for the remainder of the contest, as Seton Hall closed out the game with only three turnovers after halftime, showing remarkable veteran resolve on both sides of the basketball en route to Chicago to meet DePaul in a Saturday matinee.
"We can't lose no games," said Delgado of the short-term objective in the Pirate locker room. "That's our goal. We've just got to play hard and play with confidence. If you play like that every game, you're going to win for sure."
"We know we're on the bubble right now," he elaborated. "And I told the guys, 'if you don't pick it up, we're going to stay outside the tournament. They know that, and that's why they played angry today. I like how the guys played."