NEW YORK CITY — Aren’t you glad you didn’t quit on this Seton Hall team? They haven’t quit on themselves. The Pirates overcame a short turnaround, an injured starter, and negative publicity to continue their surge toward the Big East Tournament and beyond.
Now tentatively sitting third in the Big East with two games to play, Seton Hall (20-9, 9-7) looks to have rounded a corner and locked up an NCAA at-large bid after coming out on top after a topsy-turvy week that included a handful of off-court distractions which may have overwhelmed this very same team just a few weeks ago.
As head coach Kevin Willard put it, the team “really played four games this week” — and they won all four coming off of a four-game losing streak that truly threatened the bend-but-don’t-break attitude this team has had.
Today’s gritty 81-74 overtime win over St. John’s lived up to the hype and left the players and even the staff exhilarated post-game, as they went wild in the visiting locker room and were audible at least 50 yards away.
“I’m really proud of the way these guys focused in and were able to restart their minds on Thursday, because we were playing so well Wednesday night and then the game stopped,” said Kevin Willard of how his team transitioned from a bizarre suspended game at Providence.
“We were very focused and they really respect this St. John’s team, they know how good they’ve been playing, how good they are. And any time you play in the Garden, you have to respect the greatest venue ever and I knew these guys would come out and play their hardest.”
Khadeen Carrington (22 pts, 6 rebs, 4 asts) continued to regain his form and led his guys in scoring, Myles Powell (18 pts, 8 rebs, 6 asts) struggled from deep but helped in other areas and made a couple big shots within the arc, Angel Delgado (14 pts, 13 rebs) was dominant early and late, but it was also the role players who picked up the slack in the absence of Desi Rodriguez (sprained ankle).
Ismael Sanogo (10 pts, 6 rebs) made clutch plays and locked down defensively and freshman wing Myles Cale (10 pts, 4-6 fg) took his first career start in stride, as the pair spearheaded the collective effort to replace Rodriguez.
And an unsung walk-on, Philip Flory, logged 17 crucial minutes when Cale was sidelined with foul trouble.
“When Des (Rodriguez) went down, Myles (Cale) is his backup technically defensively and offensively. And Phil (Flory) is the only one who really knows what he’s doing on the offensive side from that spot,” said Willard of his man management.
“Whether it’s zone, whether it’s underneath out of bounds plays. I think we all have a lot of confidence in Phil when he’s out there because he’s tough, he’ll defend and rebound, and when he’s open he can make a shot.”
It was rather fitting that a team not far removed from wit’s end has solidified the regaining of their confidence on and off the court by way of a true team effort over the past few days.
The contrast was easy to spot between a six-man St. John’s that looked to lose steam against a Seton Hall group that rolled out hockey lines in the first half and had nine of their ten guys with assists at the break.
But the team camaraderie was also visible at noon on Thursday with Rodriguez in a boot and cheering on his team from the bench as they played on Providence’s campus. Flory saw time late in that one too in what was another team effort to stave off the Friars’ opening run.
Perhaps it’s hard times like the past few weeks which yield strong men.
“I think we learned how deep we can go,” said Khadeen Carrington of the team’s depth and mental toughness.
“I think everybody played absolutely well today. I had a talk with the guys and I said everybody has to step up since Desi is sitting out and I think everybody did a great job.”
“I’m proud of my team.”