NEW YORK – Trailing St. John’s by 3 with 58 seconds to play, it looked like Seton Hall had coughed up a 19-point first half lead with their NCAA dreams at stake, but Khadeen Carrington would sink a 15-foot jumper and Isaiah Whitehead buried three free throws in the closing seconds as the Pirates escaped with a 62-61 win in bizarre fashion at Madison Square Garden.
Seton Hall (19-7, 9-5) jumped out to a 13-0 lead before I even made it to my press seat and Kevin Willard’s team led by as many as 19 points over the first period while Desi Rodriguez notched a career-high 24, 19 of which came before the break.
It looked like the Pirates would cruise, but the early tremors of uncertainty came in the form of fouls: Angel Delgado (2 pts, 6 rebs) and Isaiah Whitehead (10 pts, 3 asts) were both sidelined for major stretches early on with two fouls and Rashed Anthony picked up four personals in Delgado’s place.
The Pirates looked like they hit a lull just before the half due to going deep on their bench so early and it showed to open the second period.
After converting on a couple three-balls, St. John’s reeled off an 8-0 run out of the locker room to instantly shrink their deficit to just 36-30 before Seton Hall finally fought back with a 7-0 push of their own that saw Desi Rodriguez surpass his old career-high of 21 points.
Clearly the better team in the second half, St. John’s did not go away and came within a point at 50-49 during the under-eight media timeout, fouling out Angel Delgado and Rashed Anthony in the process.
Without any centers the rest of the way, things got really bizarre, ugly, insane — you name it.
Ismael Sanogo and Mike Nzei split time at the five as the game turned into a foul-fest that favored the Red Storm; Seton Hall was 18-30 from the line.
After taking their first lead at 50-49, St. John’s went up 3 via a Kassoum Yakwe (16 pts, 15 rebs, 4 blks) and-one that fouled out Ismael Sanogo, setting up Seton Hall’s guard-oriented come back over the final minute.
Out of passing options at the top of the perimeter, Khadeen Carrington drove to the paint, pulled up and was money on his 15-footer to bring his team within one and with every Pirate fan biting their respective fingernails, Isaiah Whitehead put home the game-winning free throws after coming down with a big defensive rebound a couple official-dictated possessions later.
There’s no point mincing words: Seton Hall deserved to lose this game and would have against a better opponent, but a win is a win is a win, right?
Five quotes from the Garden:
Kevin Willard on overall game: “This was the game that I looked at, that I thought was going to be our toughest game. My New York kids coming back to the Garden, watching all the film, I thought St. John’s was playing as hard as anyone else in the conference at the time. That was just an old-school grind it out, both teams played extremely hard, we just got lucky enough to make free throws at the end.
“This was just a big win. This gets us to 9-5. Again, I thought this was going to be our toughest game. I’ve been breaking up our schedule into 3s, and I thought this would be the toughest game [out of 3].”
Willard on Delgado getting out of sync: “It hurts him. He doesn’t do well when I take him in and out, he gets a little pissed. He has matured tremendously … but sometimes he loses focus a little bit when he’s not in there. It didn’t hurt us, I think we had 36 points at half, but it hurts him, it gets him out of the rhythm.”
Willard on the post-game scrum: “Two teams that battled and played very hard. There was nothing to it, sometimes that happens. I think that’s why in the NBA everybody just walks to the locker rooms. Sometimes the handshakes line is not the greatest idea.”
Derrick Gordon, who was in the middle of the post-game scrum: “It was a hard-fought game, both teams wanted to win. They’re a good team, we’re a good team… it just came down to — there was a lot of talking. Just words.”
Isaiah Whitehead on pulling in the rebound that set up his winning free throws: “My first reaction was ‘Thank God’ that they called a foul. They’re a scrappy team and who knows what would have happened if they didn’t [call the foul].”