More than one Seton Hall player admitted their play early on – the Pirates fell behind St. John’s 18-10 ten minutes into the game – was affected by a dismal fan turnout, Angel Delgado’s big night in the paint, Isaiah Whitehead turning the game around and more aftermath from the Hall’s 79-60 win over St. John’s on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.
Over the first ten minutes, Kevin Willard’s team most certainly played down to the level of their opponent and were apparently influenced by no more than 2,000 fans showing up to the Rock, but there was always a feeling that the Pirates would break an ugly game wide open and that’s just what they did after Whitehead’s trailing block was followed up by a three-pointer from the point guard to tie the game at 22.
Seton Hall wouldn’t trail again. Not even close to it.
Angel Delgado (15 points, 17 rebounds) certainly came to play, which I predicted due to a small St. John’s frontline compared to the Xavier, Providence, Villanova, etc., most notably by getting after it on the offensive glass via 7 boards. Kevin Willard noted post-game that he had spoken to Angel about re-focusing on attacking the offensive glass like he did last season; Delgado hadn’t pulled in more than 3 in a game since Wichita State (6).
Willard also stated the key to turning this game around was locking in defensively (against a poor offensive team, no less), and that’s what did the trick. Seton Hall’s zone gave up several wide-open looks over the opening minutes, making St. John’s appear a lot better than they actually are and prompting Willard to yell “Wake up!” at his troops.
Whitehead’s block and Ish Sanogo flying into the FOX Sports broadcast table are just two examples of his guys turning it around defensively; Whitehead said the second half was probably the best they’ve played defensively all season. Let’s see how this team defends in front of 17,000 against a well-drilled Creighton squad that torched them in Newark.
At least two Pirates – Khadeen Carrington and Whitehead – cited the very light crowd tonight as a reason why they didn’t start overly well. Chalk that up to youth, but it’s hard not to empathize. As media, I can say it was incredibly easy to take a game like tonight’s lightly compared to one against Villanova, the team’s last home game.
I openly speculated with other writers during the game that the empty arena was having an affect. Turns out it did, and I personally can’t blame the kids. To them, they’re in the thick of a second season on a journey to the NCAA tournament – a very realistic goal this year – and no more than 2,000 fans show up for a game against a cross-river rival. When they walk out of the tunnel to an empty arena, they don’t know the traffic situation (countless people cited it as being horrific), and it looks like they responded accordingly early on.
The bottom line? The guys think that last year’s team may have lost this game, let alone be up 20 points just four minutes into the second half.
Kevin Willard on team’s slow start: “We came out a little bit too lackadasical defensively. Once we settled down and locked in defensively, we were able to make them take tough shots to really get us going.”
Willard on Angel Delgado’s performance: “I thought Angel was extremely excited he didnt have to go up against [Daniel] Ochefu, [Geoffrey] Groselle, [Jalen] Reynolds, [James] Farr, [Luke] Fischer. They’re [St. John’s] so undersized … His eyes kind of lit-up halfway through the first half and he realized he wasn’t getting worn down.”
Khadeen Carrington on Delgado: “I told him, I called him something – I can’t say what I called him – I told him he’s got to pick it up. In order to go far, to go where we want to go, we need him on board. Once he’s playing like that tonight, we can beat anybody.”
Carrington comparing the team’s mentality to last year’s: “Last year I think we would have lost that game, definitely … It was a close first half and then the second half we put the hammer down. Last year I think we would have let them stay in the game, guys would have still played lackadasical in the second half, when Coach screamed at us we would have taken it the wrong way, but this year everybody is on a different page [compared to last year], everybody is focused.”
Isaiah Whitehead comparing last year to this year: “With those opening minutes, last year I believe we would have kept the game at that pace. I don’t think we would have jumped on them and got after it defensively like we did in the second half. I think we played one of our best defensive games in the second half … On the offensive end, we weren’t hitting shots and we were getting down on ourselves and I think after my block the guys really got riled up and started to play defense.
“It’s games like this, not to down last year [but], games like this we would have lost. It’s trap games, coming off of 2-straight [losses], how do you respond? And we definitely did that today.”
Quotes from three players on the crowd:
Ish Sanogo on what Willard told them at half: “We just have to pick it up. Coach said there weren’t going to be a lot of people [fans] to start it off, so we have to be our own energy. He said we’d have to be our own energy coming into the second half and that’s what we did.”
Khadeen Carrington on getting motivated for the game: “You can blame it all on that, but that definitely has something to do with it. Our last game here was Villanova, right? The whole student section was packed, I think that was the most they ever had here in however long. Then there’s about 10 people in the stands, that played a little part but we can’t put all the blame on that, we have to come out better.”
Whitehead: “I’m not going to lie to you, we went out there and we saw the crowd and it was kind of light, real light. We really didn’t have that energy that we usually get off of them.”