It was the start of a season-defining homestand for Seton Hall by anyone's estimation against the No. 20 Creighton Bluejays on Wednesday night, with Villanova and Xavier to follow. And thanks to the junior class, and an all-world performance by Khadeen Carrington, the Pirates came away with an 87-81 win in what was an entertaining, back-and-forth contest overall.
Here are the Thoughts:
1. The New 'Batman'
This is going to be known forever as "The Khadeen Carrington Game" in Seton Hall lore, as with the very best individual performance I have ever seen by a Pirate, he almost willed the Hall to victory himself. He had some very big helpers (more on them in a second), but Carrington did it all in this game.
41 points, five rebounds, seven assists (against a lone turnover), 10-15 from the floor, 3-5 from deep, 18-22 from the foul line, diving on the floor for loose balls, taking charges, playing defense and coming up with the steal of the game- you name it and he did it tonight. It was just the fourth 40+ point game in the last 24 years for the Pirates (and 13th of all time), but one in which the final point total only tells some of the story.
I even asked longtime Pirates scribe Jerry Carino about it, and he said it was the best individual effort by any player in a game he's covered. Put simply, Carrington was a warrior on the court, and he wasn't about to let the Pirates drop this crucial contest.
2. The 'Robins'
Carrington morphed from 'Robin' to 'Batman' in this game (to borrow what head coach Kevin Willard said about him earlier this year), but Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado provided the 'Robin' performances. With Cole Huff and Justin Patton swallowing Delgado inside in the first half, Rodriguez poured in 14 of his eventual 18 points, nailing three three-pointers as the Pirates hung with the Blue Jays, then surged ahead before settling for a 1-point lead at the break.
After halftime, and down the stretch in particular, Delgado came alive, finishing with a double-double in the second half alone AND out-rebounding Creighton's entire team (12-11). He finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds, but went HAM on the aforementioned Huff and Patton for 15 and 12 after halftime. In the process, he scored his 1,000th career point on a free throw, and came up with several crucial plays down the stretch. The Pirates finished a plus-17 (42-25) on the glass, with Delgado grabbing nine offensive rebounds as well. Beastly performances by both 'Robins."
3. Free Throws
Often a sore spot with Pirate fans, Seton Hall got to the line 39 times and made 28 freebies (72%, with much of the production by Carrington). When games get tight, and are highly-contested, the team that makes its free throws (and that gets there more often) usually has a big edge. Creighton is one of the teams that really does a great job of keeping their opponents off the line, but this was a desperate Pirates team and they made it happen with toughness tonight.
With Xavier and Villanova next on the docket, the Pirates would do well to continue that type of strong-willed effort to attack.
4. "The Ish Factor"
Ish Sanogo's presence in this game cannot be understated. The defensive wizard came back after missing three games due to injury and was a plus-14 in 24 hard-fought minutes tonight. Despite not being 100% still, he gutted it out.
After he entered the game for the first time tonight, Creighton went 3 for their next 16 from the field, and while Sanogo himself wasn't directly responsible for all of that, he really does make a huge difference. At one point in the second half, Seton Hall was down six coming out of a media timeout after Sanogo had been on the bench. Ish came in the game, and entering the following media timeout, the Pirates were up one.
Coincidence? I think not. Seton Hall will definitely need him in the next two contests as well.
5. Only The Beginning
As great as this win was, the Pirates cannot rest on their laurels. Villanova comes to town on Saturday, with Xavier after that, and they need to get at least one of those two games to keep their NCAA hopes alive. Rumor has it that the Prudential Center is very close to being sold out completely (and that's WITH the upper bowl open) on Saturday, making it the biggest game ever for Seton Hall since moving to Newark from the Meadowlands in 2007. Will they be able to keep the momentum going in front of 18,000 fans?
The stretch run is going to be awfully big for this team as they flirt with the NCAA bubble. More games like Carrington's and Delgado's tonight will ensure that it doesn't suddenly burst.