A 21-7 second half run and 40 points from Xavier’s bench overpowered a career-high 21 points and 8 rebounds from Desi Rodriguez as No. 5 Xavier dispatched of Seton Hall 84-76 on Saturday afternoon.
The Hall clawed within a single point at 50-49 early in the second half but Xavier exploited the paint and assisted on 21 of 30 baskets to fend off their guests. Forward James Farr (24 pts, 13 rebs) and Sean O’Mara (9 pts) were huge off of Chris Mack’s bench while Isaiah Whitehead (15 pts, 6-20 fg, 5 asts, 5 TOs) struggled, especially over the opening 20 minutes.
Seton Hall jumped out to a 9-6 lead by snaring five early offensive rebounds against Xavier’s pesky 1-3-1 zone but fell into an offensive lull midway through the first half with Angel Delgado (7 pts, 7 rebs) sidelined with two fouls.
The visitors had to deal with a 4-minute field goal drought and turned it over 7 times over the first 10 minutes of the game, quickly surpassing the 6 turnovers they committed during the entire game against Villanova.
Up against the ropes with Xavier leading 28-22, Desi Rodriguez registered two quick baskets and personally sparked a 10-3 Pirate run that helped Kevin Willard’s team score 14 points over the final 4:30 of the half to see them trail 40-36 despite a less-than-stellar first 20 minutes.
“His whole high school career he played the 4 and the 5. He enjoys contact, he has no fear of being in the lane,” said Xavier coach Chris Mack of Rodriguez. “Sometimes you tip your cap to the player … he’s a big time player.”
Seton Hall cut their deficit to just 1 at 50-49 coming out of the under-16 media timeout following an instant 8-3 run that featured nifty passing from Isaiah Whitehead and a key basket by Rodriguez, but Xavier would have none of it in front of a sellout crowd of 10,250 at the Cintas Center.
The Musketeers rattled off a 21-7 run as an immediate response to the Hall’s surge and wouldn’t look back over the final eight minutes; Xavier’s lead didn’t slip into the single digits until a meaningless basket on Seton Hall’s last possession of the day.
Seton Hall’s defense wasn’t what we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Granted Xavier is a very good team, the Hall didn’t defend well at all today. Mental lapses like giving up a transition three to Myles Davis just prior to the first under-eight timeout and straight-up mismatches in the paint against a much better Xavier front line exposed Seton Hall.
Isaiah Whitehead was not great and Seton Hall’s offense struggled at times because of it. Whitehead showed flashes of brilliance – mostly after halftime – but ultimately did not have a memorable day against Xavier. Isaiah took a handful of ill-advised shots and turned it over five times against a Remy Abell and a Muskie defense that is 21st in efficiency and shut down Sterling Gibbs last season.
Xavier’s superior depth was blatant today. Winning the bench production battle 40-12 is pretty much all you need to say, but I’ll break it down. When starters Jalen Reynolds and Angel Delgado both picked up two quick fouls, I noted that the battle in the paint was going to drastically change. Little did I know…
Reynolds, Farr and Sean O’Mara are simply a better forward trio than Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo and Mike Nzei/Braeden Anderson/Rashed Anthony, which was put on full display following Delgado’s second foul. It’s hard to fault the three Pirates, two of which are essentially freshmen this season, when they’re battling a senior, junior and sophomore.