Three weeks after getting thoroughly out-played by Creighton on their home floor, Seton Hall used a 21-5 run around the halftime break and 22 points plus 6 assists from Isaiah Whitehead to notch a feel-good 75-65 win in Omaha.
Whitehead was helped by an effective one-two interior punch of Ish Sanogo (12 pts, 8 rebs) and Angel Delgado (13 pts, 12 rebs) while Maurice Watson Jr. was held to 14 points (6-16 fg) and 6 assists by a Seton Hall defense that was tuned to stop him.
Seton Hall wasted no time getting into their game plan by involving Sanogo and Delgado heavily over the opening minutes. Their work on the glass plus points off turnovers from deflections was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
The tempo started to pick up midway through the half during a flurry of substitutions, but textbook road basketball from Kevin Willard’s team swung the tempo in Seton Hall’s favor.
The Pirates outrebounded Creighton 24-11 over the first 20 minutes, scored 22 points in the paint and tallied 9 off Jay turnovers; it wasn’t necessarily lethal half court offense, but it was effective.
Creighton’s offense was disrupted early and often due to the play of Sanogo along with Derrick Gordon (4 pts, 3 rebs) and Mike Nzei (2 pts, 3 rebs) off the bench. They did a great job of moving their feet quickly to close off drives into the paint and forcing outside shots from Maurice Watson Jr.
“Ismael Sanogo played phenomenal. So did Mike Nzei. Both Ish and Mike did a heck of a job,” said Willard of his guys defending Watson.
“Going back and watching the first game, I asked myself why do we keep going over [the screens on Watson], but I said you have to pick your poison with this team. Even if he made a couple [jumpers], the most demoralizing thing for us was the layups they got [in Newark] … I was like, we’re not letting that happen on the road. We’re just going to make them shoot. At one point I just told the guys ‘stand in the lane.’”
As a result of executing their defensive game plan successfully, Seton Hall closed the first half on a 17-6 run to lead 40-27.
After sitting for much of the first half due to foul trouble, Creighton center Geoffrey Groselle injured his left ankle early in the second period, further allowing Seton Hall to dominate the interior in his absence.
Led by Isaiah Whitehead scoring the Hall’s first five points of the second half, Seton Hall would speed out of the locker room to the tune of a 14-5 run, which came on the tail-end of a 7-0 flurry to close the first half.
The Pirates held a 12-0 advantage on the offensive glass late in the second half and would finish +19 and +13 in rebounding and second chance points, respectively.
“I thought we rebounded the ball great. That was the main thing for us, let’s go in there and let’s kill the glass,” said Willard.
Seton Hall constructed their biggest lead at 56-34, but Creighton would narrow the gap down to 10 just after the under-eight media timeout as they held the Pirates to a single field goal over a nearly five-minute span.
But like he did for most of the second half, Isaiah Whitehead had the answer with an NBA-range triple to give a sputtering offense a kick-start and his team a 13-point lead heading into the final TV timeout.
“Isaiah Whitehead proved that he is a big-time player. That’s what big-time players do,” said Willard of his point guard’s second half shot-making.
Whitehead was helped by Desi Rodriguez (14 pts, 10 rebs) and the two combined on quite a few plays in the second half.
“I thought that was the best game Desi Rodriguez has played in his career … I thought he set the tone in transition defense, he did a great job of sprinting back.”
The long-range bomb from Whitehead was just the shot Seton Hall needed to hold their hosts at bay over the closing minutes. Creighton trailed by double digits for the final 21:04 of the game.
Seton Hall improves to 15-6 (5-4) and faces a three-game home stand against Marquette, Georgetown and Butler. Creighton falls to 15-7 (5-4).