Seton Hall dominates Rutgers, stay undefeated
Amanda Boyer/Photography Editor
The Seton Hall men’s basketball team brought the first ever Garden State Hardwood Classic trophy back to South Orange with an 81-54 win over in-state rival, Rutgers University.
The team now stands with an unblemished record of 7-0 heading into a battle with No. 9 Wichita State on Tuesday night.
A rocking crowd of nearly 10,000 at the Prudential Center took a collective gulp when the Scarlet Knights hit a pair of back-to-back jumpers to begin the game 4-0.
But star freshman Isaiah Whitehead, who was honored as the recipient of the Joe Calabrese Most Valuable Player award, got the sea of blue buzzing again with a pull-up jumper followed by one of his four three-pointers on the day.
“My shot was falling,” Whitehead said. “I just kept firing, and it kept going in and my teammates kept finding me.”
Whitehead finished with a career-high 25 points (9-15 FG, 4-5 3PT) to go along with four rebounds, five assists, three steals and no turnovers in 21 minutes of action.
“I’ve seen him play now forever,” head coach Kevin Willard said of Whitehead. “I’ve seen him do it in practice. Nothing he does surprises me. He’s an extremely talented player, an extremely smart basketball player. I think everybody sees how good his vision is…He made some really tough shots, which he has the ability to do.”
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native accounted for the first nine Seton Hall points, scoring seven and dishing out a transition flush for senior Brandon Mobley, who totaled 12 points on the day. At one point, the Big East Newcomer of the Year had as many points as the entire Rutgers team (17).
After each big play early on, Whitehead motioned towards members of the Lincoln High School basketball team sitting underneath the basket by the Pirate bench.
“It was great,” Whitehead said of getting the support of his alma mater. “Those guys are having a great season so far, and they’re just coming to support me. I hope I get a chance soon to go out there and see them play.”
Seton Hall really dominated Rutgers in the first half, shooting 60.6 percent from the field and forcing RU into 26.7 percent. The Pirates also pounded the Knights on the boards and in terms of ball movement, outrebounding their opponent by eight and outpassing them by eight assists.
Things cooled down a bit in the second half, as Seton Hall and Rutgers both shot 33.3 percent from the field. But the damage was already done.
The Pirates were presented with a trophy made of wood planks from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy after the game. SHU and RU are set to continue this rivalry game at least up until 2020, and the winning school will house the trophy until the next game is played.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall’s freshman rebounding machine, wound up with a double-double on Saturday, his third of the year. After the game, Delgado’s excitement and sheer joy over the victory spread throughout the Rock.
“It means a lot for me and for the team” Delgado said of taking home the trophy. “I love being a champion. I love winning. I’m so happy for this.”
“I do everything for my team,” Delgado continued. “If they need me [to get] a double-double, that’s what I’ll do. I don’t even care about [points], I care about rebounds…I don’t feel good when I have ten, I feel good when I have more than ten.”
The Pirates will now hit the road and head to Kansas for a meeting with Wichita State, the ninth-best team in the nation.
“This is going to be our real first road test,” Willard said. “We will definitely face some adversity on Tuesday night. How they respond, how they dig in is going to be a part of the learning curve…I’m excited to see what they do…It’s as tough of a home court advantage as there is in college basketball.”
Seton Hall and the Shockers will tip off Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN 2.
Thomas Duffy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @TJDhoops.