NEWARK – Seton Hall essentially replicated their performance in Rhode Island by rallying around a 15-0 run that sandwiched the halftime break and then fended off a Ben Bentil-induced Providence run to notch their first 20-win regular season since 2003-04 with a commanding 70-52 win at Prudential Center.
Isaiah Whitehead (25 pts, 8-12 fg, 9 asts, 6 rebs, 4 blks) was incredible from start to finish while Angel Delgado (14 pts, 10 rebs), Khadeen Carrington (12 pts, 7 rebs) and Desi Rodriguez (11 pts, 8 rebs) all reached double figures and played their roles to a ‘T’ to outlast a dominating performance from Providence’s Ben Bentil (31 pts, 6 rebs).
Seton Hall clearly benefited from Kris Dunn (8 pts, 0 asts, 3 TOs) being ill as they held him to a goose-egg in the assist column for the first time since January of 2013 and the turning point of the game came when Derrick Gordon drew what seemed like his 32nd charge on Dunn this season in the closing seconds of the first half.
“He’s big, that 3 [attempt] before the half, I wanted to choke him,” joked Isaiah Whitehead about Gordon. “I told him when we got back down the floor, I told him ‘Get it back on defense, get it back on defense’’ and he took that huge charge on Dunn and then I was able to come down and hit a three, I think that was a big momentum-changer.”
Much like the meeting in Friartown, the bang-bang sequence prevented Providence from getting within a point at the break and helped keep alive a 7:21 Friar field goal drought that was embedded in the Hall’s 15-0 run.
After building a 52-32 lead at the under-12, Providence came storming back to within 7 while riding on the shoulders of Ben Bentil, who made it feel like he couldn’t miss a shot for a stretch, but again Whitehead added gas to his team’s tank by setting up an Ish Sanogo dunk to squash the Friar’s run and then he made his best pass yet with another behind-the-head pass, this time to Desi Rodriguez.
“I tried to get it there anyway possible and that was the best way to get it [there],” said Whitehead of his pass. “It’s basketball instincts, I can’t tell you what I was thinking at that time, what was going through my mind.”
Whitehead’s dish followed up on Rodriguez drawing a flagrant two on Bentil for a vicious clothesline on a hard drive and sparked the small forward’s personal 9-0 run, putting the final nail in Providence’s coffin.
Now sitting at 20-7 (10-5) and third in the Big East, Seton Hall are now torn between focusing on the next game and focusing on the big stage of the NCAA tournament.
“I try to keep it off everyone’s mind, but DG [Derrick Gordon] is a big influence in the locker room,” joked Whitehead. “Once he starts talking about it, everybody else starts talking about it and I’m like ‘Oh man I hope we stay focused on our next game’. I try to take it a game at a time, as long as we keep winning and playing well, we’re going to get there.”
When Kevin Willard was asked about what it means for this team to win 20 regular season games for the first time since 2003-04, he deflected as well as Derrick Gordon does on the court.
“They don’t mean anything to me. I’m extremely excited for the kids in the locker room. They came here for this purpose, to do this. Great players win games, I feel I have some really good players and they’re winning games.”
As for Isaiah Whitehead, he’s still hungry to make more noise.
“Those guys don’t really respect us a lot,” said Isaiah of bracket projections. “So as long as we keep winning and winning and winning, there’s no way they can keep us out of it … We’ve won 7 of our last 8 and we still haven’t really gotten any respect. Our motto is win games and they cant keep us out.”