Pirates win physical battle in Whitehead’s return
Kenneth Cook/Staff Photographer
The return of Isaiah Whitehead was dramatic to say the least.
With their star freshman back on the floor, Seton Hall (15-6, 5-4) was able to outlast Xavier (14-8, 5-5) as the Pirates won a heated contest, 90-82.
It was the most points the Pirates have scored all season.
With emotions running high throughout the game on both sides, the Pirates were charged both mentally and physically with Whitehead playing for the first time since Dec. 21. He had been out for over a month recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.
Coming off the bench, No. 15 checked in for the first time at the 16:31 mark. Minutes later he hit his first career shot in Big East play, a three-pointer. By the end of the afternoon he would have 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in 23 minutes of action.
“You guys watched the game,” head coach Kevin Willard said to a room full of reporters afterwards asking about Whitehead’s performance. “I’ve said this all along, it’s not the offense – obviously the offense is great and what he did – but it’s the defensive end. He had three steals, nine deflections, he had some big rebounds, he gets fouled, so it’s just not the offensive side. It’s the defensive side and just the intangibles.”
“My teammates, they found me a lot and I found them a lot,” Whitehead said. “I was comfortable. I was practicing with them a couple times before this so it was just about getting my feet wet… It felt great.”
He added that he believes the issue with his foot is behind him.
Whitehead was not the only member of the Hall who shined. Sterling Gibbs had another solid showing with 22 points and eight assists while Desi Rodriguez racked up 16 points on 6-7 shooting to go along with six boards and two steals. Big men Brandon Mobley and Angel Delgado combined for 23 points and grabbed 14 off the glass as well.
Rodriguez’s performance off the bench was critical, as Delgado and fellow reserve Rashed Anthony were in foul trouble for much of the game.
Kenneth Cook/Staff Photographer
“Being able to have your whole roster survive some foul trouble and miss-match was nice,” Willard said.
“I just wanted to be aggressive today,” said Rodriguez, who threw down a massive slam dunk in the game. “I haven’t been playing the way Desi Rodriguez is supposed to be playing.”
The two teams went back and forth at each other all day, both on the scoreboard, verbally and physically. The referees called a total of 50 personal fouls, as well as three sets of double-technicals.
“We wanted to go out and be more physical offensively and I think we did a good job of setting a tone,” Willard said.
It was a hard shove in transition from Matt Stainbrook on Whitehead that cemented Xavier's unraveling in the closing minute of the game.
“It’s Big East basketball,” Whitehead said of the play. “You can’t really fault him. They’re playing hard, we’re playing hard. We’re just going at each other.”
Foul shooting played a major role in the Pirates' win, as the Hall went 25-35 from the line. The team brought a strong perimeter defense as well, holding the Musketeers to just one trey on 19 attempts.
Next on the docket is a DePaul team that beat the Pirates at home on Jan. 22, 64-60. Willard said Whitehead will remain limited.
“We’ll limit him in practice a little bit,” Willard explained. “Again, his foot is okay; he has to get back in shape… He will be monitored for at least the next two games until he gets some practice time.”
The game against DePaul is set to tip-off at 9 p.m. on Tuesday as the Hall travels to Rosemont. Ill.
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.