Saturday, November 25, 2017

5 Thoughts: Seton Hall bounces back from Rhode Island loss with convincing win over Vandy

Desi Rodriguez carried Seton Hall on a night where Khadeen Carrington struggled and Angel Delgado battled, leading Pirates with 27 points in 72-59 win over Vanderbilt. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

BROOKLYN -- In case anyone needed any further evidence that Seton Hall has matured as a team and a program, Friday's showing against Vanderbilt proved to be Exhibit A.

The Pirates, still ranked 20th in the nation despite a bitter one-point loss to Rhode Island on Thanksgiving night, returned to Barclays Center in the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off; and in a setting where the potential for a letdown coming off a demoralizing setback was higher than usual, responded like a veteran team should, limiting Vanderbilt to just six field goals after halftime in a 72-59 victory over the Commodores to improve to 5-1 on the year and erase some of the aftertaste from Thursday's defeat.

Next up in the heart of Seton Hall's non-conference schedule is a trip to Madison Square Garden Thursday night for the Under Armour Reunion, where they will face an undefeated Texas Tech team that received votes in last week's Associated Press Top 25 poll and are shaping up to be a contender in the Big 12 Conference under head coach Chris Beard. Until then, we fill in once again for our tag team partner Jason Guerette with five thoughts from Friday's proceedings in the home of the Brooklyn Nets:

1) Call me Ismael
Getting a nod to start for the first time this season because Kevin Willard felt his team needed a defensive spark in the opening minutes, Ismael Sanogo was his usual imposing presence, disrupting any and all flow that Vanderbilt tried to immerse themselves into. Sanogo only finished with four points, which is of no concern since his impact is not on the scoreboard, but his eight rebounds and four blocked shots were par for the course in terms of what the senior from Newark provides the Pirates.

"I just wanted to be the aggressor on defense and not let the other team run what they want," he imparted when asked about setting the tone for Seton Hall in the game's initial stages. "From what it looks like and the results of the game, it worked."

"Even when he's not supposed to be there, he's there helping you," Desi Rodriguez echoed of Sanogo and the weapon he becomes alongside Angel Delgado. "It kind of takes a weight off our shoulders, the guards and Angel, that's why we consider Ish the best defender in the country."

2) Dominant Desi
Rodriguez is no stranger to lighting up the nets when his team needs a jolt, and Friday night was one of those instances. With Khadeen Carrington struggling and only managing one point on the night, plus Delgado having to battle his way to a yeomanlike 15 points and eight rebounds, the onus to score was on the swingman from the Bronx, and he delivered to the tune of a season-high 27 points, just three markers shy of the career-best 30 he posted on the road against Marquette last January. Called an elite player twice already by his coach this season, the explanation that the media clamored for following last week's victories over Indiana and NJIT was finally afforded.

"He's just not a one-dimensional player, and it's kind of depending on who's guarding him," Willard assessed. "If a bigger guy's guarding him, then we'll go outside. If a smaller guy's guarding him, we'll go inside. He's got the skill set where I can take advantage of multiple positions on the court, and he's starting to learn how to really make plays off that."

"I was able to be aggressive and be dominant," Rodriguez elaborated. "The way Coach plays me through his offense, he trusts me with the ball in my hands a lot now and he knows I'm very aggressive inside. Whenever he calls a post-up play for me, I get aggressive with that, and even on the outside with the ball in my hands, I make smart plays. I try to make the smartest play I can."

3) De-Fense! De-Fense! De-Fense!
Willard made his team relive the nightmarish first half against Rhode Island Thursday by having the Pirates watch it again in Friday morning's film session, something Sanogo deemed a learning experience. The tactic worked as the game went on, particularly in the final stanza, when Seton Hall conceded just six field goals after the intermission and did not allow a three-pointer on a dozen Vanderbilt attempts. The Commodores had shot 48 percent from the floor and made five of their twelve shots from long distance in the first half, their proficiency with the deep ball being the biggest factor in taking a 32-31 halftime lead into the locker room. From the Pirates' perspective, not giving up 61 percent from the floor and 78 from beyond the arc as they did in Rhode Island's 54-point first-half bonanza was more in their wheelhouse.

4) Super Subs
In Thursday's loss, Seton Hall's bench did not offer much in the way of productivity, largely because the starters had been effective and able to produce without a hitch. In the second of two games from Barclays Center, it was the total opposite for the Pirates, who fed off their second unit even if the final statistics may conceal that fact.

Eron Gordon, now ensconced as the backup point guard until Jordan Walker returns from a torn ligament in his thumb, played a clean 11 minutes while dishing out four assists without a turnover, while Sandro Mamukelashvili drained a three-pointer and contributed several hustle plays in his time on the court. Even walk-on Shavar Reynolds got in the act, fading away in the right corner directly in front of the Seton Hall bench off a feed from Gordon to drain a triple at the horn, evoking a frenzied celebration.

"I thought the bench was tremendous," said Willard. "They gave us great energy. I thought Sandro, Eron Gordon, four assists, no turnovers -- Myles Cale was really good defensively. I just thought they gave us a nice little energy boost, and I thought they popped the ball and we got some easy buckets off our defense."

5) "It wasn't an oil painting..."
We'll use the famous quote from our friend Bobby Gonzalez to describe Friday's game, which may have lacked for aesthetics at points in the contest, but ultimately led to a Seton Hall win that got the Pirates back on track for the near future heading into a pivotal Madison Square Garden showdown with Texas Tech on Thursday. The Hall looked disjointed when Vanderbilt opened up a 32-27 lead with 4:27 remaining before halftime, but the defensive effort began to ramp up, and with that, so too did the offense, to the tune of a 17-2 run and an 11-minute scoring drought for the Commodores, which prompted a proud reflection from Willard.

"I loved our attitude," he proclaimed. "We woke up this morning with a great attitude that no matter what, we were gonna get a victory, and that was the mentality all day. To me, that's a huge step forward for us mentally, because I would have struggled in years past to get them rolling, and I didn't have to do much today besides tell them what I really wanted them to do."

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