Sunday, March 4, 2018

JP's 4 Thoughts: Seniors go out winners as Seton Hall tops Butler

From left to right: Khadeen Carrington, Ismael Sanogo, Angel Delgado, and Desi Rodriguez hold framed jerseys aloft during Seton Hall's senior night ceremony. (Photo by Jerry Carino/Asbury Park Press)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, NJ -- It was a night filled with emotions, from the senior day ceremony to the game itself, to even the pregame locker room talk, things were running just below the surface at Prudential Center on Saturday.

But on a night where Seton Hall was missing two of their vaunted four-man senior class due to injury against an always-tough Butler team, with a difference of four seeds in the Big East Tournament on the line, the Pirates turned in a magnificent effort, led by their active seniors, and beat the Bulldogs in Newark for the first time, 77-70, in front of over 9,700 adoring students and fans to clinch the No. 3 seed next week at Madison Square Garden.

Here are the four thoughts (in honor of the four seniors) from The Rock:

1. Seniors Being Seniors

When seniors play like seniors, college basketball teams tend to have success. Unfortunately, the Pirates were missing Ish Sanogo and Desi Rodriguez with ankle injuries, so while they participated in the ceremony before the game, they were unable to assist in the moment.

Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado then took matters into their own hands, and put together one of the best inside-outside tandem efforts you’ll see for 40 minutes. Both players had four points by the first media timeout and they didn’t stop there. Carrington was awesome, scoring a team-leading 25 points on 7-for-14 shooting while also knocking down all three of his three-point attempts and eight of his nine free throws. Delgado put together his 71st career double-double, and just like a couple of months ago when the Pirates beat Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse, was just plain unstoppable. The big man finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds on 9-for-11 shooting and 3-for-4 from the charity stripe, turning the Bulldogs’ front line of Tyler Wideman and reserve post Nate Fowler into traffic cones at times.

“We were doing it for (Desi and Ish), since they couldn’t be a part of the game,” Delgado said of his focus heading into the game knowing the circumstances. “I told (them) ‘we got you. We’re going to get this win for you guys.”

“There’s no we could allow ourselves to lose,” Carrington said. “Angel and I took it upon ourselves to be more aggressive.”

Now, they did have some great help, with pseudo-senior Michael Nzei turning in a workmanlike effort down low with six points and 10 rebounds, and Myleses Cale (nine points and three assists) and Powell (13 points, four rebounds, five assists) each taking turns making big plays, but make no mistake about it, the seniors willed the team to victory Saturday night. 

2. Fans, Fans, Fans

This was one night here in Newark where the fans truly made a difference. For starters, they all showed up early as requested and the stands were about 80 percent full when the ceremony started (according to public address announcer Tim McLoone, it was the highest turnout for a senior day ceremony ever at Seton Hall, and I believe him).

Then the game started, and the fans were into it from the get-go, rising as one even just a couple of minutes into the game when they sensed the team had Butler on the ropes a little. In the second half, after the Bulldogs weathered the early storm and made it a close game, Seton Hall was up by only one, 47-46; but then spurted ahead as Eron Gordon hit a three, Delgado finished a layup inside, and after a Fowler layup for Butler, Carrington scored five straight on a transition dunk and a three-pointer. The noise level as the Pirates surged to a nine-point lead, particularly on Carrington’s shots, rivaled that of the Villanova game as the place came unglued.

“Our fans were phenomenal,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “They got here early and showed their unbelievable appreciation to four great seniors. That was the best senior night I’ve ever been a part of by far. Not only was the win huge, the emotions, and the fans showing their appreciation, I thought, was very special.”

They were present, and the fans got so loud at just the right times to really buoy the team. It was like the fans decided they were not to be denied this win. Kudos to the Pirate faithful for bringing their A-game to back the senior class that changed the program.

3. Sweet Emotion

Senior nights are filled with lots of feelings, both happy and sad. But this one, with all that the senior class has done over the last four years, meant so much to so many people that the emotion just poured out. Rodriguez and Delgado, and even Willard, were visibly emotional during the ceremony itself as they took the floor and hugged each other one by one.

“I didn’t think I was going to cry that early,” Rodriguez said. “But just seeing the packed stands, the people screaming my name, I thought I could hold it in, but it just started coming out in the layup line. I’m just happy that we did so much for this program. The fans have been great for us.”

“It was crazy because at the beginning, I couldn’t stop crying,” Delgado said. “I would not exchange these guys for anything, any team in the country. We’ve been through a lot, and I’m so glad we’ve made it here.”

Willard understandably had a lot to say about them in the postgame.

“They are like my oldest sons,” he said. “I’ve been with them for six years, technically. I spend more time with them for eight months than I do my own family. As you sit there, you have such a feeling of pride because you watch them grow and you feel proud of what they’ve accomplished, proud of the men they’ve become, and the decisions they’re making. They are graduating and two of them are going to be the first to graduate in their families. So many emotions go through you when you’ve been with players this long.”

When told of Willard’s comment that it was the best senior day he’s ever had, Delgado also offered a reason why.

“It’s because we’ve given him a lot of headaches,” the senior quipped. “He’s really proud of us. He’s like my father. He’s always going to be a father for me- even when I go pro or do something else, he’s always going to be a father to me.”

It is undeniable how much this class has meant to Seton Hall as a program and Willard offered his thoughts on that as well.

“I will miss them dearly,” Willard said. “But I think that’s the great thing they’ve done here. They’ll never be gone. Every recruit we have that comes in and watches those guys, they walk away thinking ‘I can’t believe how hard those guys work. I can’t believe how much fun those guys have.’ They’ve laid a great foundation for the guys sitting out and the young guys.”

4. On To The Garden

So, what do the Pirates get for their efforts? A rematch with Butler in the Big East Tournament Thursday night in the late game of the evening session. Seton Hall finishes as the No. 3seed and will play the No. 6 seed Bulldogs, something that Willard thinks could help both teams.

“It’s better than playing someone like Creighton, to be honest with you,” he said. “And by that, I mean we haven’t seen Creighton (in a while), so from a scouting standpoint and the guys knowing what we’re doing, we can really have four days and work on us and understanding what we’re going against. For Butler it helps, and for us it helps.”

The Pirates should have Rodriguez back for that game and possibly Sanogo as well (Willard was less-bullish on his return Thursday, but also said “don’t count him out”). In a year where the Big East has been as competitive, top-to-bottom, as any league, the matchups are thus:

Wednesday: #8 Georgetown vs. #9 St. John's, #7 Marquette vs. #10 DePaul
Thursday: #1 Xavier vs. Georgetown/St. John's, #4 Creighton vs. #5 Providence, #2 Villanova vs. Marquette/DePaul, #3 Seton Hall vs. #6 Butler

This should be a fun Big East Tournament, folks, and we’ll have coverage for you all week at Daly Dose of Hoops.

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