Sunday, February 18, 2018

JP's 5 Thoughts: Seton Hall breaks losing skid against Blue Demons

Desi Rodriguez set career-high with 33 points as Seton Hall ended four-game schneid with win over DePaul. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, NJ -- Losers of four games in a row, the Seton Hall Pirates came back to Newark for a must-win home game against DePaul. And thanks to monster games from Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado, the Pirates ended up getting the job done on their home floor, coming away with an 82-77 win to get back in the win column and back to .500 in Big East play.

Here are the five thoughts:

1. Return Of The Defense?

Maybe, but not quite. In the first half, Seton Hall struggled defensively for most of the period, allowing 50 percent shooting to the Blue Demons, including 61 percent from two-point range, with many of those points coming inside.

There was a stretch of about 5-6 minutes, however, where the old Seton Hall defense showed up. Led by a burst of energy, the Pirates forced four DePaul turnovers in that span and with Rodriguez heating up from the outside, the run ended up being a 15-3 outburst that earned the Hall a standing ovation from the fans in the house. They were diving on the floor for loose balls, and showing the urgency that head coach Kevin Willard wanted heading into the game.

Still, DePaul wound up shooting 48 percent for the game (although just 5-for-19 from three, a point of emphasis according to Willard), with a 58 percent mark from inside the arc. Those are not the numbers the Hall or their fans want to see, but it was good to see the Pirates get back to defending like they know how for a stretch of time today.

2. Guardian Angel

Angel Delgado dominating DePaul is nothing new. The senior posted 16 points and 19 rebounds against a Blue Demons front line that really had no one outside of Marin Maric who could defend him at all. That lifted his career averages against the Blue Demons to 12.9 points and 13.4 rebounds over the course of eight games, with 63 percent shooting to boot. Today was also his third 19-rebound game (and second in a row) against DePaul.

But what was new was Delgado’s energetic play on defense. It was the big man who started to dive on the court for deflections and loose balls, which in turn sparked the aforementioned run in the first half. The team had a laugh or two about it in the locker room.

“I can’t even get up right now,” Delgado chuckled afterwards. “I’ve got to leave everything on the court right now. I wanted to win this game so bad.”

“That’s probably the first time I’ve seen him dive on the floor like that,” Rodriguez quipped. “We actually talked about that yesterday. I said, ‘Yo, Angel, why can’t you dive on the floor?’ He said, ‘I’m too big,” and I said, ‘You’re not too big to jump on the floor,” and so he did it today. That kind of set the tone and got our momentum going.”

In a large sense, that infectious energy that Delgado is known for was a little lacking the last few games, due in some part to a semi-banged-up knee.

“Something that’s been missing from his game a little bit is his enthusiasm and energy,” Willard said. “When you’re hurt, that’s one of the things that goes right away because you start thinking about it more than just playing. The fact that he feels really good right now, he got back to playing basketball and playing the way he always plays.”

“He’s our emotional leader,” Willard added. “He always has been since Day One when he stepped on campus.”

3. Microwaved Desi Dinner

With Myles Powell and Khadeen Carrington having off nights shooting the ball (and in the former’s case, a rare off night), points were needed to augment Delgado inside. Desi Rodriguez struggled mightily in the early going of this game, starting off 0-for-5 from the field. He then hit his first basket (a three), at the 7:09 mark of the first half, and from there proceeded to score a career-high 33 points on 12-of-16 shooting the rest of the way, including four threes (a couple of them in the Pirates’ big first-half run) and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line down the stretch.

He scored more than half (24 of 44) of the team’s points in the second half, and basically took over the game, scoring seven of the Hall’s first nine points out of the break and scoring all but one of Seton Hall’s field goals in the last 13-and-a-half minutes as DePaul (like a lot of teams) had no matchup for him individually.

Rodriguez has always been the most mercurial of the senior class, able to go off on anyone for 25 while also susceptible to long lapses. But when he’s on, boy, is it fun to behold.

“He’s been our best offensive player over the past five games by far,” Willard said, adding that “when he’s locked in defensively, he’s just a different basketball player and he was really locked in on (Max) Strus. He did a phenomenal job of really making it hard for him to get going.”

Strus finished with 14 points, but needed 13 shots to get there, so Willard has a point as the team getting going defensively coincided with Desi’s offense revving up. But with a scorer like Rodriguez, sometimes seeing the ball go in the first time just opens the floodgates, and it did on Sunday.

4. Devilish Demons

I don’t know about you, but it seems like whenever Seton Hall really needs to beat DePaul, the game ends up being close down the stretch like today. Going back to the 2011-12 season, when the Blue Demons walloped the Pirates in Chicago to essentially knock them off the NCAA tournament bubble, DePaul has played the Hall within five points six times over an 11-game span.

Three years ago, in the middle of their late-season fall from grace, DePaul swept the Pirates for the first time, punctuating that stretch in a way; but since then, Seton Hall has beaten the Blue Demons six straight times, including today, so they have been able to get the job done recently. Maybe it’s just a reflex that whenever the Pirates play against DePaul, I get nervous since I had to witness the blowout loss in Rosemont live back in 2012.

5. Uphill Climb

This win was necessary to stop the bleeding and maybe even more to avoid what would have been a bad loss, but Seton Hall still has work to do. They go up to Providence next on Wednesday, followed by a challenge against the force of nature that has been Shamorie Ponds and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden Satruday. They have their final two games of the regular season at home, but against national championship favorite Villanova and the always tough and well-coached Butler Bulldogs.

Honestly, the key to the rest of the year may be to regain the energy shown today by Delgado and others in that big first-half run. It’s not like the Pirates have played 40 minutes of bad hoops and never shown it in their recent down period, but it’s not been sustained for a full game.

“We have shown (that) in spurts,” Willard said. “The second half at Xavier, the second half at Georgetown, I thought our first half tonight was really good. We just have to put it all together.”

At this point in the season, good teams begin to do just that. And so the burning question remaining is, to paraphrase Denny Green, will the Pirates be who we thought they were earlier this year?

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