Myles Powell exhorts Prudential Center crowd in final moments of Seton Hall's 90-84 victory over Creighton to open Big East play, one in which Pirates trailed by as many as 13 earlier in second half. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
NEWARK, NJ -- The two-day opening night extravaganza in the Big East Conference already had its share of thrillers to satisfy the rabid appetite of its fan base, with Butler erasing a 20-point deficit to defeat Georgetown in double overtime, followed by Xavier's resilient effort to down Marquette just over an hour later.
Both of those contests were merely appetizers to a main course featuring two ranked teams in Seton Hall and Creighton, who tangled at the Prudential Center in the first of a pair of home games for the 23rd-ranked Pirates to open league play.
Trailing 58-45 less than a minute into the second half, Seton Hall (12-2) did what it does best, playing stronger defense and forcing an astronomically efficient Creighton team into ill-advised jump shots as the final stanza went on, reaching the doorstep with a 17-5 run before seizing control with a 12-3 spurt several minutes later en route to an emphatic 90-84 triumph over the 25th-ranked Bluejays (10-3) in the Pirates' penultimate game of the 2017 calendar year to add a third win against Top 25 competition to an already stellar resume on which a neutral-site victory over Texas Tech and road score at Louisville are attention-grabbing bullet points.
The Pirates continue Big East play with a New Year's Eve soiree against St. John's that tips off at 5 p.m., welcoming the Red Storm to Newark with a potential 2-0 start to Big East play on the horizon. Before the Hudson River clash comes to be, however, we fill in for Jason Guerette with a handful of thoughts on the transpirings Thursday night, and what they could eventually portend for the long-term aspirations in South Orange:
1) "We're not losing this game."
Those were the words of Angel Delgado in the huddle after he fouled out with 3:09 remaining in regulation, a juncture at which Seton Hall trailed 84-83 following a mildly controversial call by official Michael Stephens under the Pirate basket. The 6-foot-10 All-America candidate finished his night with 18 points and 14 rebounds, but made perhaps his greatest impact in rallying the troops for a game-ending 7-0 run that began on a driving Khadeen Carrington layup, a basket which put the Pirates in front for good.
"I told them, 'We're down by one. So what?'" Delgado recounted. "You guys worked for this, so you guys gotta pick it up right now. Let's go. We're not losing this game. These guys did what they were supposed to do. They played hard, and we won the game."
Playing hard is a mere underscoring of the statement the Pirates made, their latest message to the nation in a season that has already seen Seton Hall's quartet of seniors raise their game to levels seldom visited in their three prior seasons. No hyperbole here, this win is one that will resonate for a long time this year, as the unrelenting will and mission of the seniors drove home a game that; although not a must-win, was an important feather in the cap.
"I'm ready for some of those guys to graduate," Creighton head coach Greg McDermott deadpanned. "I might come to their graduation and congratulate them as a matter of fact. They're just really talented. They got down, and we even jumped on them to start the second half, and they didn't panic. They continued to play the way they play. I thought we got away from how we played and maybe tried to do too much at times. We were trying to maybe shoulder too much of the load."
2) Michael, the Archangel.
Over the past two weeks, Michael Nzei has emerged as a glue guy in the Pirate lineup, a role that has also been occupied by his interchangeable front line companion, Ismael Sanogo (more on him later). On Thursday, the Nigerian big man was his understated, unsung hero self yet again, only scoring seven points, but amassing 14 rebounds to match Delgado and provide support down low that is impossible to truly quantify with a tangible value.
"Mike got me," Delgado exclaimed when asked to assess the play of his interior mate. "That was the first thing he said. He said, 'I got you! I got 14 rebounds!' And I was like, 'Yo, I freaking love you, man! You don't even know how much I love you right now!'"
"It's fun to play with Mike," he added. "Mike is a hard worker. He works every single possession. He got me, and I know it was good for him and good for us."
3) Welcome back...
Ismael Sanogo made his return to the floor Thursday night after a one-game suspension for violating team and university rules, an exile that cost him a role in Saturday's win over Manhattan. Head coach Kevin Willard attributed the quick change of heart to a "family decision" largely influenced by Sanogo's senior classmates, a process that Carrington expanded on after the game.
"It was a meeting between myself, Desi and Angel at first, and then we brought it to Coach," he revealed. "We just felt like we started with Ish, so it was a big thing for us to finish with him. We had a conversation with Ish and we told him all the extra stuff needs to stop. He's really focused right now, and of course we're gonna need him down the stretch, so we're excited to see what he gets us."
4) The house stands on 17.
When Desi Rodriguez scores 17 or more points in a game, Seton Hall is now 24-6 lifetime after the swingman dropped 23 against Creighton to pace all players. When prompted to explain the importance of the Bronx native being vital to the offensive production, Delgado offered his trademark candid, yet insightful response.
"I was telling him in the first half, 'You better pick it up,'" he said. "I don't want to see no down face, no nothing. You didn't play good in the first half, so what? We got your back. I told him, 'Go shoot everything, I'll go get you the rebound, I'm gonna put it back.' That's what I do. That's my job. If they shoot 20 shots, I'm gonna get these guys. Keep shooting, I'm gonna get you, I'm gonna put it back in. Don't worry about it."
5) "We're coming."
Delgado offered a bold boast to serve notice to the rest of the conference that the 2016 champions are on a mission, and in the process, provided memorable quotes as only he could.
"We're coming for everybody's head right now," he proclaimed. "That's how we're going. We worked too much for this. We're going crazy every game, I'm telling you right now. We're not giving up. There can be one second and we're down by 10, we're not giving up, not even a second. In this league, you sleep and they eat you. It's like a pit bull trying to chase you every day. This league is no joke, man."
And if the opposition Seton Hall faces is like a pit bull, then what does that make the Pirates? Delgado's answer?
"My team? We're a dinosaur! We eat them back, try to destroy them in one bite!"