Notebook: Seton Hall escapes scare from Quinnipiac, 90-79

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Seton Hall trailed by as many as 10 and weathered a 13-point second half run but were able to escape their consolation round game against winless Quinnipiac with a 90-79 win on Friday night.

Desi Rodriguez (23 pts, 11 rebs) held his team together at the seams in the form of 11 early points and a flurry in the second half while Mike Nzei (19 pts, 12 rebs) tallied the second double-double of his career in the place of Ish Sanogo (shoulder; day-to-day).

Seton Hall had to withstand an opening onslaught from Quinnipiac, who made 4 of their first 5 shots including a 30-footer that built a shocking 20-10 lead.

Things turned from bad to worse as it looked like Myles Powell (12 pts, 2 asts) tweaked his ankle, but a few different defensive looks from Seton Hall plus a game-changing span from Rodriguez and Nzei turned the game around.

The duo were the only two Pirates to score from 16:42 to the 6:14 mark in the first half including 11 points from Desi in a 3:30 span. Nzei’s double-double was his first since a start against Rutgers early last season.

The surge from Seton Hall’s two forwards sparked a 17-point swing heading into the halftime break after trailing 20-10 early on.

Leading 46-39 at the break, it looked like Seton Hall had put the game away when they built a 15-point lead at 62-47, but a 13-0 run from Quinnipiac that was reminiscent of their start to the game put the game in severe doubt.

On the ropes, a junkyard dog rebound from Desi allowed for a run-out that resulted in Nzei being wrapped up for a flagrant foul as he sank a two-footer. Nzei completed the swing by drilling his two free throws to establish a more comfortable cushion that was maintained into the under-four in the form of an 80-69 lead that withstood wave after wave of Quinnipiac energy.

Seton Hall will clash with Stanford in the 5th place game on Sunday night.

Three thoughts:

You don’t usually say this after an 11-point win, but it really felt like Seton Hall escaped tonight. From early on, the difference in body language was blatant as Quinnipiac’s bench was clapping together as their teammates defended on the court while the Hall looked like they were coasting through a fog at times. How much of that can be chalked up to a hangover from losing to Florida? Kevin Willard should be keen to make this a learning experience.

This should be Mike Nzei’s starting spot to lose. Ish Sanogo is clearly banged up, but it’s also clear that Nzei brings more to the offensive table than Sanogo. We saw tremors of it via his efficient spurts of put-backs last season, but Nzei does a ton of good things on the glass too. What better way to instill confidence in someone than to ride their hot hand?

Seton Hall is really lacking offensive play-making and ball movement from their guards. The Pirates had just six assists until late in the game and half of those came from Angel Delgado (5 pts, 8 rebs, 4 asts), who was limited with foul trouble. When Madison Jones isn’t playing well, and he hasn’t offensively in Orlando, the Hall is not getting much from their guards as far as creating opportunities. Can they keep relying on Rodriguez and Carrington to create shots for themselves?

Three quotes (and one) from Kevin Willard:

What this win meant: “We had an emotional loss last night — I knew it would be the same as Bradley last year … I don’t care how ugly it was, it’s a W. We move on, we get a day off and we get ready for Stanford … At Iowa we took two steps forward with our maturity, last night we took one step back. Tonight we actually took two steps forward again. We kind of knew we could win this game at any point, we just had to wake up.”

On Mike Nzei’s big night:It’s half my fault and maybe half his. When he knows he’s going to play, he plays so much more freer and looser. He has to do that more often, it’s great to see.”

On Delgado being double-teamed: “It’s a sign of respect and he doesn’t understand that … They’re throwing the whole kit and caboodle at him. These are games that are only going to make him better as the season goes on.”

Full quote on Ish Sanogo’s shoulder injury:We’re going to be — Ish and I actually just talked. His shoulder is a pain in the butt where, he has it strong, if we shut him down and have surgery, it’s a kiss of death for him. We have to figure out a way for when he tweaks it, how to work with that a little bit. He’s a tough strong kid, no one can doubt his toughness but I’m also going to be cautious with him.

“I’ll see how he feels on Sunday, if he doesn’t feel he’s at 100-percent strength, then no, I won’t do it because it’s a long season. It’s kind of like what he did at George Washington [last season] when he actually dislocated it. We sat him out the Rutgers game and one other game and then he came back strong. So I’m more worried about him coming back strong. It’s strong right now, it feels good right now, but I’ll look at him on Sunday and get a good read from his body language and how his body is feeling. If he feels strong then he’ll play.”