NEWARK, N.J. — It was far from pretty, but Seton Hall (18-9, 7-7) and Desi Rodriguez did just enough to end a four-game losing streak with an 82-77 win over DePaul.
Only last season, Seton Hall was 13-8 (3-6) and losers in five of six, just one game into February.
Then the Pirates won an ugly, wild overtime affair at Georgetown in which they shot 35-percent from the floor. And then they edged Providence 72-70, again in overtime, back at Prudential Center.
Seton Hall would win 5 of 7 to close out the regular season.
Enter this Seton Hall team — losers in 7 of their last 10 — which was treating today’s win over DePaul like a title bout.
“It’s like our Super Bowl. We were the Eagles and they were the Patriots, for real,” said Angel Delgado to a throng of media not used to the Blue Demons being associated with a storied franchise.
“It was our Super Bowl today, we needed to win this game. Losing five in a row was not looking good for us, we just bring it today. If we play defense, we can win any game.”
Although Seton Hall has displayed flashes of brilliance during their prolonged skid, they’ve also shown long stretches of incompetence, which have been the calling card for pessimism moreso than the wins and losses.
“We’re not falling apart. That seems to be — I’ve seen a lot of teams lose — I go through college basketball and I see a lot of teams who have lost three out of four. It’s called league play,” said Kevin Willard, defiantly.
“We’ve lost at Villanova, we lost at Xavier, we lost at Georgetown. It’s not my fault we don’t have home games this time of year.”
‘You’ve got to battle, and I love the way our guys have battled. I love our attitude. We came back after losing four in a row, we had two great days of practice, and we came out — I thought we played pretty good today. You’re not blowing anybody out on the road this time of year. It’s just not happening.”
To no surprise, the ups and downs were also present today, but Angel Delgado (16 pts, 19 rebs) and Desi Rodriguez (33 pts, 8 rebs) were the primary breadwinners and did enough to carry their team over the line.
Although Rodriguez started 0-5 from the field and had a skeptical approach to defense, he closed out the game 12-of-16 and did more than shoulder the load.
When badgered about Desi’s start and why he didn’t bench him, Willard didn’t hold back.
“You’ve watched Desi now for four years. He has his Desi moments. He’s 90 percent good– and I think the problem with everyone when he does have his — what I call his moments — is when he’s playing and he’s locked in, I think he’s the most dominant player in the league.”
“He’s a senior. I liked the way he was playing. I thought he was playing really well, and I thought he was playing extremely hard. Sometimes you’ve got to trust your kids, and I have great trust in Desi, and I know he’s going to snap back out of it. He did within two minutes. Sometimes when he gets like that and you take him out, he doesn’t snap out of it.”
Oddly enough, Desi would take full ownership of the pattern of play seen over the last few games as well as at the beginning of this one.
“Nobody was negative, nobody is putting the blame on anybody else. We just figured out how to get a win,” said Rodriguez after he set a new career-high in the scoring column.
“I look at it as — I’m happy that we got the win, but I’m still not satisfied of where we’re at playing [wise]. … I’m definitely not happy when we give up leads, sometimes we have breakdowns defensively, and it starts with me, it starts with the seniors. Defensively we’ve got to be better. I feel like if we get stops and get out and run, that’s what we’re best at and we haven’t been doing that lately, the last four games we lost.”
“It’s been tough for us, the games we lost, we played well during some parts of the game, we’ve got to play well for all 40 minutes,” continued Rodriguez, candidly.
“That’s what our problem is. We get too complacent. If we’re playing well and go on a little streak and get a little momentum, we get too complacent and teams don’t back down and come after us, we’re not mentally strong and ready to get what they’re throwing at us.”
While the team is well aware of their recent shortcomings and have been for a few games now, it’s been about taking the wheel and turning things around in a tangible way.
This has been illusive over the past two-plus weeks until today — now it’s all about what the team does with this glimmer of sunlight that has slipped through the negativity.
“Getting a win, that’s what we wanted the most,” said Rodriguez.
“We knew how important this win was, we’re not trying to throw away a good season, losing four straight, that really hurts us, that really, really does hurt, but just bouncing back today shows a lot of leadership and what we want to do going forward.”
“Coach always tell us: We’ve been through this. We’ve been through this since our freshman year,” added Delgado of the ups and downs.
“We’ve been dealing with this since our freshmen year, so it’s nothing new. We can’t put our heads down, we’ve always got some punches, but we’ve always got up and fight.
“And that’s what we’re doing right now.”