Five thoughts, five quotes: Seton Hall downs Dartmouth in season-opener

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Seton Hall overcame a sloppy first half to comfortably cruise past Dartmouth 84-67 on Friday night at Prudential Center. My five thoughts on the Hall’s performance and five quotes from Kevin Willard and his players.

Five thoughts:

Ismael Sanogo and Derrick Gordon provided much-needed grit at the the four/three spots. With Angel Delgado, Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington penned into starting roles, all of the pre-season talk was about how the three and four positions were going to be handled by Kevin Willard. Despite the uncertainty, this may have been the Pirates’ strength tonight.

From his game-opening block to a do-it-all approach to defense and transition play, Ish Sanogo really handled his first major cameo for Seton Hall well. Sanogo had 9 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks, but even that balanced statline doesn’t paint the entire picture; Ish played solid defense and did all of the little things off the ball.

A similar player, Derrick Gordon compared the sophomore to himself: “He definitely brings a lot of energy. I look at him as someone like me, he plays hard, he does what he needs to do as far as rebounding, scoring. Having a guy like that is definitely special.”

After a little bit of a shaky start,  Isaiah Whitehead proved that he has all the skills to be a point guard for Seton Hall. Just like last season, Whitehead looked like he was forcing things early on, but the seasoned sophomore righted his own ship before things got out of control and put in a stellar performance for the last 35 minutes. Kevin Willard noted that he’d like Isaiah to be more aggressive towards scoring early on in games, which is certainly different than Whitehead trying to do it all himself like his showing against Baruch.

Seton Hall is always going to look to push the pace. Especially in the first half, the Pirates were throwing the ball out in transition at every chance they could. We know that a lights-out half court offense isn’t Kevin Willard’s forte, so expect more of this going forward with very lenient officiating and slashers like Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Derrick Gordon getting fed by Whitehead in the open court.

Whitehead on if tempo is stressed in practice: “Definitely, but I think we pushed it a little bit too much today, we had 20-something turnovers. I think if we pace ourselves a little bit more… but we’re going to get better as the season goes.”

This team can throw a ton of different personnel at opponents. Veer Singh isn’t healthy yet  and we saw a variety of combos tonight. Guys like Desi, Ish and Gordon can become interchangeable on the wing while Singh and Dalton Soffer (injured tonight) will provide spot-up shooting. Willard’s pre-season comments about going nine or ten deep is looking about right.

Free throws are a concern. First Baruch and now tonight (22-43, 51%), Seton Hall really needs to clean up this part of their game. Dartmouth would have been down by close to 20 early in the second half if the Hall made their free throws and took care of the ball a little more. That can’t happen against better opponents and the team knows it.

Five quotes (and one!):

Kevin Willard on Isaiah Whitehead: “I thought Isaiah played terrific. For his first game being the guy, I thought he played really well. I think he’s got to understand, that’s three games in a row that we’ve struggled in the first six minutes, I think he has to be a little more aggressive shooting the ball early and not trying to force it. He’s just going to get better and better and better. For your first game to have 18 and 8, that’s a pretty good start to your sophomore year.”

Willard on Ish Sanogo and Derrick Gordon: “I’ve been raving about Ish all summer, he put in a lot of hard work. I thought he played with a lot of composure, a lot of energy.

“Derrick sprained his ankle on Monday night on the last play of practice, he didn’t practice Tuesday, Wednesday, didn’t practice yesterday. That’s the first time he came back in there days, before that he played great at Penn State, he was playing great. That’s Derrick on one leg so when he gets back to being bouncy and healthy that’s what he’s going to give you.”

Derrick Gordon on playing for a hometown school now:  “I’m very close to my family, so it’s very important to me. To see them in the stands was real great for me.

“I really had never thought that I’d be playing my last year at Seton Hall. It’s more of the fact that I’m embracing everything and going with the flow.”

Ish Sanogo on his breakout game: “It wasn’t nothing new. I felt ready from practice, these guys go hard, having to guard Angel [Delgado] everyday [in practice] prepared me for anything, I think.”

Isaiah Whitehead on being the floor general: “I feel great, especially now that I’ve learned not to force things. I think I threw one bad pass to Mike [Nzei] and I was killing myself over it because that was [what I’d do] last year. I kept pushing and I think that showed — last year I would have thrown a turnover and would have melted down. Over the summer, working, I learned a lot.”

Whitehead on improving the half court offense since Baruch:  “Versus Baruch, if the first option didn’t work then play over. Since Baruch we’ve been working on just running our offense all the way through.”

Injury updates:

Veer Singh – Willard said it’s only been 11~ days since his injury and that he’ll probably be back to full strength in two weeks. Singh wore a very light brace on his wrist; Willard added that he was surprised he took a shot since he hadn’t shot the ball in a while due to the injury.

Dalton Soffer – Sprained his ankle in practice, will likely be out until the Charleston Classic.

Derrick Gordon – Sprained his ankle badly on Monday in the last play of practice, didn’t practice all week. Was taped up pretty good, which helped him a lot.

Khadeen Carrington – Willard said he got injured early against Penn State. No further clarification.