Kenneth Cook/Staff Photographer
With 15:20 remaining in regulation, Kevin Willard had no other choice but to take Angel Delgado out of the game. The star freshman forward, who leads the Big East in rebounding with 9.6 boards per game, was having another solid performance, but Willard was looking to save his presence for the final minutes of play after Delgado committed his fourth foul.
A frontcourt with little depth was going to have to find something off the bench following a scoreless performance by the reserves against Marquette. And, just as this 2014-15 season has brought breakout performances from each of the five freshmen that have seen action this season coming out of a top-15 recruiting class, Saturday was no different. This time, the story surrounded Desi Rodriguez, who scored a career-high 16 points to go along with six rebounds in the Hall’s 90-82 victory over Xavier on Saturday afternoon.
The 6-foot-6 freshman out of the Bronx, N.Y., was coming off a scoreless night against Marquette on Wednesday, but he delivered his biggest performance of the season thus far on Saturday. Rodriguez scored two lay-ins on as many possessions for the Pirates to keep the blue and white’s lead to five, then a steal led to a dunk by the newcomer, who put the blue and white on top 62-55 with 11:24 to play. It was all part of a surge that saw Rodriguez score nine straight points for the Pirates. He totaled five of the team’s 14 second half field goals.
In a game that saw three technical fouls assessed to each team, the battle on the glass was critical throughout in what was a chippy affair.
“Our goal was to keep them off the offensive glass at all costs,” Rodriguez said. “It took a lot of physicality, but we knew we had to hang tough to beat this kind of a team.”
The Pirates won the rebounding battle, 36-33, with Delgado ending up with 10 points and seven boards while Brandon Mobley had 13 points to go along with seven rebounds. While the two starters had solid performances, nobody else down low contributed a board for SHU. Rashed Anthony and Chier Ajou were unable to do much in 12 combined minutes, making Rodriguez’s statement-making performance all that much more significant against a Xavier frontcourt that features an outstanding big man in Matt Stainbrook, who fouled out on Saturday.
“He was able to really get around (Matt) Stainbrook,” Willard said. “I thought that was a mismatch that went to our advantage.”
In a game that saw 50 personal fouls, bench play became even more of a factor than usual. While Rodriguez’s teammate Isaiah Whitehead had started every game before missing five weeks with a stress fracture injury beginning on Dec. 27 against Maine, he served as a reserve and scored 19 in his return. It benefited Rodrgiuez in many ways, as the former teammates at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn were building off one another as time went on.
“It was great to have Isaiah back,” Rodriguez said. “We were really on the same page, and that’s what needs to continue to happen for us to be successful.”
“It certainly helps that they played high school basketball together,” Willard said of the duo. “They really understand each other well.”
Rodriguez has always been somebody that has given something when he’s stepped on the floor this season. He’s not going to be the guy for the Hall’s offense that’s expected to get into double-figures even, but Rodriguez is somebody that really can serve as a strong X-factor for this team. His stature and ability to run the floor gives him the capabilities to be a big part of what SHU does in the second half of Big East play.
John Fanta can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @John_Fanta.