Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rodriguez leads Seton Hall as Pirates dig deep to outlast Georgetown

Desi Rodriguez led Seton Hall with 27 points as Pirates survived Georgetown to preserve status on strong side of bubble heading into Saturday's regular season finale at Butler. (Photo by SHUHoops.com)

NEWARK, NJ -- Just as it was in Seton Hall's last two games following a 22-point loss to Villanova, the message in the team huddles remained the same: This is our season, let's keep it alive.

Trailing by five with just over eight minutes to go against a Georgetown team that would have almost certainly burst the Pirates' bubble barring a second straight Big East championship, The Hall took matters into its own hands and exhibited what has become a recurring motif around the program, picking themselves up and asserting themselves in a businesslike tone.

The Pirates tightened the screws on defense after falling behind by a 54-49 count with 8:44 remaining in regulation, holding visiting Georgetown to just one field goal for the remainder of the game while closing the final minutes on a 13-5 run, enabling them to defeat the Hoyas by the final of 62-59 and exhale just a little deeper after yet another hard-fought victory.

"I just wanted to come out aggressive," said Desi Rodriguez, whose 27 points led all scorers as he rode a hot hand through a 17-point first half to give Seton Hall (19-10, 9-8 Big East) its third straight win and added momentum traveling to Butler for Saturday's regular season finale. "Everybody on the team knew how important this win was, Coach told us how important this win was, so we definitely wanted to leave it out on the floor, play our hardest and get a W."

The junior wing exploded out of the blocks in the opening stanza, shooting 7-of-10 from the field as Seton Hall weathered an early storm from Georgetown (14-16, 5-12 Big East) before a 12-3 run leading up to the buzzer played a role in the hosts taking a 38-30 lead into the intermission. The Hoyas slowly chipped away, however, trading blows through the first several minutes after halftime before a brief 8-2 spurt put the visitors up by five and set up the Pirates' latest extrication from a precarious situation.

Back-to-back layups from Khadeen Carrington and Rodriguez pulled The Hall within one point before a Georgetown basket stemmed the tide, then Rodriguez managed to get a conventional three-point play after a late blocking foul was assessed to L.J. Peak, tying the score at 56 apiece with his free throw. The Hoyas went up again inside the final two minutes, this time by three, before Peak fouled Rodriguez behind the three-point line to send the Bronx native to the charity stripe in an attempt to forge another tie with 1:53 to play. Rodriguez hit two of three, and got a clutch offensive rebound on their next possession, which resulted in Angel Delgado's go-ahead layup with 72 seconds on the clock. A pair of Carrington free throws provided the final margin on the scoreboard, as Seton Hall scored the game's final six points, but Georgetown still had one last chance to force overtime.

With 14.6 seconds remaining, the Hoyas saw their attempt break down as Rodney Pryor came up empty-handed on a contested three-pointer from the left corner, adding to the frustration in the nation's capital as Seton Hall pulled themselves out of the fire once more.

"They made plays, we didn't," a subdued John Thompson III lamented. "There was a whole series of things that happened down there, you could rattle them all off. At the end of the day, they made plays, we didn't."

Peak and Pryor were the visitors' lone double-figure scorers, with 15 and 11 points, respectively. For the Pirates, Rodriguez was aided by Delgado, whose 11th-straight and nation-leading 24th double-double of the year included 12 points and 13 rebounds, setting a new Big East single-season record for rebounds and pulling down his 1,000th career board in the process. But in typical Delgado fashion, he cared more about the end result on the scoreboard than he did the accolades on his personal ledger.

"Everybody played tough today," Delgado confidently stated. "At the end of the game, the toughest team wins. We were just a little bit tougher than them, so we got the win."

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