Seton Hall responds well to slow start, empty arena to down St. John’s

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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.

Post-game quotes:

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.”

  • Fishjam

    Bit of a lackluster performance but at this point we are just counting Ws. 10 games left, have to bag 6 more at minimum.

    Some Positives:
    – Once again the team seems to rally when they make a great defensive or effort play. After a brutal start, Whitehead’s hustle and impressive block led to a 14-4 run that turned a 20-17 deficit into a 7-point lead and the rout was on

    – Delgado got his swagger back. Even though St John’s had no size, he really gave a big effort and his teammates looked to get him the ball. He was having fun and hopefully it carries over to his big rematch with Groselle Saturday because when Angel plays well, this team wins. They are 9-0 when he gets a Double-Double, 12-1 when he gets 10 rebounds & 9-1 when he scores 10.

    – Once they took control, they ended the game early so they could rest players for Saturdays big road game. Willard again complained about the schedule and I’m starting to see his point. Playing Wed night and flying out to play a Saturday road game is a disadvantage against an opponent who played Tuesday and travels home to rest for several days.

    – The start was so bad….coming out flat again after back to back losses can’t happen. Against a better opponent they would have been down by 12 or 15 early and may not have come back.

    – Too many jump shots again on offense against a team they could have taken to the hoop at will. StJohns played a little Zone in the 1st half and just like vs Xavier we tried to shoot them out of it rather than work it into the soft spots. They were bailed out by 15 offensive rebounds and many easy putbacks in the paint againt an undersized opponent. Our best offense for a stretch was to miss a shot so Angel & Company could grab the rebound for an easy putback.

    – Two ugly stats that usually lead to losses….19 Turnovers and 52% on Free Throws. The frontcourt of Angel/Ish/Nzei & Desi were 3 for 10 from the Line….ugh!

    • VinBick

      Fish, you are spot on once again. Do not think 9-9 in BE will be enough to make it to the Big Dance. Ten wins should be enough to impress the committee, and a couple of wins in the BE tourney will seal the deal. Those six wins are far from certain against equal or better competition in all of the remaining contests except the Johnnies and DePaul. DePaul in Chicago to end the regular season makes them a tough out, too.

      It was disappointing to see so few fans at the Rock last night. Coaches yelling during the game were heard easily, loudly, and clearly by fans on the opposite side of the court. Come on, folks. The team deserves a great deal more support.

      • Fishjam

        You are right Vin, 20-10 overall & 10-8 in BE are the Magic Numbers that should punch our ticket. Then even 1 BE tourney win has us at 21-11 with a solid RPI. The final third of the season will be another battle with no gimme wins because even StJohns will be tougher on the road.

        I break the final 10 down into 3 categories. If they win the 3 they will definitely be favored in, they then have to battle for 3 more Ws against 7 really solid teams. This game against Creighton is immense. Not only would it provide another W but we are battling them head to head for a Tourney berth. If Creighton wins, the Selection Commitee will look at a season sweep as proof they are better and more deserving. If we steal the game on the road, it will be more about RPIs and resume and Seton Hall will have the edge.

        3 Must-Wins
        vs MARQ, @ STJOHN & @ DePAUL

        4 Tough Games can go either way
        vs GTOWN, vs BUT, vs PROV, @ CREIGHT

        3 VERY Tough games
        vs XAV, @ BUT, @ GTOWN

    • Louie Dee

      I don’t see Willard’s point about the scheduling, everyone’s going through the same thing. He sounds so pessimistic. Great coaches adapt to the situation. Deal with it once the seasons over.

    • hallstorm


      I’m with you all except the complaints about the scheduling. The Hall gets all day Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday to rest with a 2.5 hour flight somewhere in there for this week. They are 19/20 years old-that’s more than enough time to recover. Granted, I only played high school basketball, but I always played 2 nights a week and-as a team-we never thought scheduling was a reason we didn’t have energy. I realize we only play 32 minutes a night vs. 40, but we are also only 15-17 years old.

      2 games a week should be just fine for recovery-even if it’s a Thursday-Saturday times. Most teams have to do that once or twice a season.

      I just don’t want to hear about outside reasons as to why we fall flat or don’t play hard. All I’m asking for is to play hard at this point. I’m not even asking Williard to actually coach.

      • Fishjam

        I hear you. I don’t like that Willard continues to bring it up in almost every interview because it’s like he’s giving him and the team a cop out. There’s nothing that can be done about it at this point so what is there to gain by constantly bringing it up on televised interviews?

        So while bringing it up is useless, I still think its a valid point. Not that playing Saturday after Wednesday is not enough time to recover but 3 times already this year, their Saturday opponent has played Tuesday. It’s an extra day of rest but probably more importantly, it’s an extra day of preparation and practice. It’s no excuse though….it’s just like complaining about the officials….in the long run things tend to even out and there’s no use complaining about things you can’t control.

  • SHULaw05

    We have seen that the Hall can win big games on the road (i.e. Providence and Marquette). Saturday is extremely important to jump out of the gates early and play tough, intense D. Will need a solid team performance. Win on Saturday and I can guarantee a large crowd at the Rock for their next game.

  • iratepirate

    Glad we won. We had to win to keep our NCAA hopes alive. Bottom line is this: Play like we did in the first ten minutes here against Creighton and we will be down 25 not 10. Shots don’t always fall, but you have to keep that intensity on defense from the opening tip.

    This goes especially when you are on the road. If we were down 22-10 against Creighton their crowd would bury us in noise. You win on the road by silencing the crowd, keeping a lead, and taking time outs at crucial times.

  • Coach Mike

    Traffic was horrendous. Many people got there mid to end of first half. Just a crawl down 22 and down Broad Street or McCarter Highway. Knowing the mess, also not a surprise many stayed home. Many people’s commutes were triple the last couple of days. That being said, this program still needs to earn the non season ticket holder’s want to come to the games. Good to see them play well again.

  • Louie Dee

    How do they decide on the throw-back jerseys? They look shape, the best looking jersey the team has, by far!

    Nice and clean like the pinstripe Yankees.

    • shufaninva

      I was with you right until you said like the Yankees… ?

  • Jersey Jerry

    Kids had a ball second half and GR8 2 c the team & crowd support the bench players especially when Soffer hit his second 3 … fun times!

    Love ‘da throw-back uniforms w/old logo

  • shufaninva

    I am sure if I was married, a wife would point out how I was wrong, but I am glad I was wrong about the talent of this team. I really was critical about Angel and Whitehead, but they have really turned it on. Angel is very quietly having a fantastic year. He isn’t making tons of highlight reel plays, but he is consistently making better decisions than last year. It is fun watching this team. I am a little bummed that Soffer isn’t getting more playing time, especially with our struggles at the three pt line, but I’m sure practice is giving the coaches the picture on how much he can be counted on at this point of his rookie season.
    I still think I am right about Willard not being a good in-game coach, and about him not being able to get the most out of his players’ talent, but I would love it if this team keeps playing hard, wins a lot more games, and goes dancing. I would LOVE to be wrong, as I’m sure many of you all would love to be wrong about KW.

    The BE tourney is going to be WIDE open. Other than Depaul and St. John’s, I can see any other team winning the automatic bid on the neutral court.

    Hazard Zet Forward!!

  • PadrePirate

    Know these guys are young and “crowd energy” gives an emotional boost, etc. but I personally don’t think it’s a good sign that our players are so dependent on the crowd for their performance. As a collegiate athlete (on scholarship btw), you come and play your best every game, all game, period, regardless if there’s 1 or 10 thousand to watch.

    Big game today. Creighton is favored. Taking one from them on the road would be not only a sweet payback, but would also give these guys the emotional boost that they seem to need.

    This middle-of-the-pack in the BE will thin out over the next 4-5 games. We have a cluster of teams all sitting at 14 wins or so. Who will emerge for that last tourney spot? B, MU, Gtown, C, SHU? Like DG is fond of saying “whoever wants it more”. GO PIRATES!