Season-ending notebook: Kevin Willard, Ismael Sanogo and more

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More unused quotes from Kevin Willard and Ish Sanogo, my thoughts on the experience at the Pepsi Center last night and more tidbits in a season finale notebook.

The thoughts

Kevin Willard had quite a few interesting things to say last night. I didn’t tweet them because I didn’t feel it was appropriate, but he had an open dialogue with the TV monitor official (a Big East ref, I forget his name) that sits on the sideline; I was directly behind the official.

Minutes after Isaiah Whitehead’s flagrant one in the first half, Willard asked him “Was that a flagrant?” as if he didn’t trust the main guys. He just nodded his acknowledgement after the ref answered (not sure if he said yes/no).

A few minutes before Willard’s technical in the second half he randomly made a comment to the official about how it’s Seton Hall and three teams from the west that were put together in Denver.

After he received his technical, Willard was really close to picking up a second and was warned by the on-court refs about coming onto the court. Then a minute or two later he said to monitor ref: “That was my first technical of the season. Bad refs.” I believe it was actually his second T, perhaps I misheard.

Gonzaga was way better than I thought. Just a sophomore, Domantas Sabonis is going to be a big name in the league next season and beyond. His one-two punch with Kyle Wiltjer was something that Seton Hall hasn’t seen before this year and not something you can really prepare for. But the Bulldogs’ guards are the unsung heroes, especially defensively. I thought the refs could have called a few more fouls on their guards for dogging Whitehead & Co. in the first half, but you’ve got to respect how physical they were.

Sitting right in front of them, Seton Hall’s fans we’re great. The team didn’t give the two full sections (including the lobsters) much ammo, but they made the most of it. “Let’s Go Hall” chants during media timeouts to try and activate a run, Marcus Toney-El going absolutely crazy before the game — starting a chant on his own — and never-ending heckling of the officials. It’s a shame they couldn’t see at least one win.

Derrick Gordon will be sorely missed. As a teammate, as a player for Kevin Willard, as a great candid interviewee. It hurt seeing him in so much agony as the clock expired last night. He was a life preserver for this young group of guys this year, not to mention the “biggest blessing” in Willard’s life. With the Madison Square Garden net around his neck and the Big East Tournament trophy between his legs, this will be my favorite quote from DG.

The Pepsi Center experience was incredible. Easy to get to from large portions of downtown Denver (20~ minute walk) and despite being built in 1999 it absolutely blows the Rock out of the water. I’m not sure how it would look if the NCAAs weren’t in town, but the layout was great; it felt like a brand new arena in all aspects.

The quotes

Kevin Willard

On the approach he took regarding Isaiah Whitehead’s shot selection: “You can answer that question. You think you’re going to get him to defer? He’s been our guy all year. You can’t take the reins off because again, I have so much confidence in him I thought the next one was going to go in. When you have that confidence in your players, you’re not going to sit there and say ‘OK, stop shooting because you’re not feeling it.’ I had the confidence he was going to make his next shot, it wasn’t like he was missing bad, he was in and out. He had a tough night.

Regarding Ish Sanogo’s dislocated shoulder: “Ish popped his shoulder out again. It’s the third time this year. He’s fine. We popped it back in. He’ll get an MRI tomorrow, hopefully tomorrow night.”

I openly questioned whether Seton Hall should be doubling Domantas Sabonis last night after they didn’t for much of the game. When asked if Sabonis is the toughest match-up Seton Hall has faced: “I’ll say he’s the toughest match-up we’ve had this year just because of how good [Kyle] Wiltjer’s been playing and how he shoots it. It makes doubling him really hard, I mean really hard.”

Ish Sanogo:

On how tough Gonzaga is: “I expected more, honestly. They were tough, they were good but… they’re not that much better than us.”

When asked if experience was a difference in the game: “It was a huge difference. A couple calls went their way, couldn’t do nothing about that. They weren’t really rattled [by our run/anything].”

On the emotional hangover of the Big East Tournament and if it was still in their minds heading into the NCAAs: “It definitely was. We accomplished something that hasn’t been done in a really long time and that high doesn’t go away, it just lingered.

“No it wasn’t hard to reset, we knew that Gonzaga was going to be a really good team and we’d have to be on our A-game to beat them.”