Amanda Boyer/Photography Editor
Seton Hall men’s basketball aims to end five-game slide behind freshmen Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado
It’s been a long road since Dec. 31 for both Seton Hall and St. John’s. The Pirates (15-10, 5-9) are looking to play the same kind of basketball that they used to take down the then 15th-ranked Red Storm back on New Year’s Eve, 78-67, while the Johnnies (17-9, 6-7) sit squarely on the bubble in the NCAA Tournament conversation after a blowout 79-57 loss to Georgetown on Tuesday that head coach Steve Lavin called “a house of horrors.”
The Pirates, coming off an 80-54 defeat at the hands of #6 Villanova, have dropped five straight games, but Whitehead has begun to really step up. The freshman has combined for 35 points in his last two contests, but whether Whitehead does so efficiently or not is the question to answer.
“We're a talented young basketball team that is going through the wringer of the Big East schedule,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “We're getting a little bit frustrated and we're getting a little down.”
The Hall only compiled 11 turnovers against Villanova on Tuesday compared to 19 in Saturday’s 69-62 loss to Providence, but Whitehead continued to struggle hanging on to the basketball.
The Brooklyn native has combined for 17 turnovers in his last three contests. The Pirates will need him to deliver a near-perfect performance as Whitehead takes the reigns of the backcourt with leading scorer Sterling Gibbs (16.7 points per game) serving the first of a two-game suspension after unsportsmanlike actions on Tuesday night.
While Whitehead will likely be the Pirates’ main scoring option, Khadeen Carrington will orchestrate the offense. The freshman is now up to 24 minutes per game but it looks as if Carrington’s minutes will only be going up. Carrington has not scored more than six points in a game since he scored 20 at Marquette in an 80-70 win on Jan. 18.
Countering Seton Hall’s backcourt duo will be St. John’s star D’Angelo Harrison. The star senior is second in the Big East averaging 18.6 points per game. As he goes, the Red Storm goes, and that was clear on Tuesday when Harrison only scored five points and went 0-for-9 from the field. The struggles aren’t completely unexpected, as Harrison has been going through strains in both calf muscles. The senior did go for 25 points in the first meeting with the Pirates, and when he gets help from his fellow guards, St. John’s really becomes a completely different team.
Senior guard Phil Greene IV comes in red hot for St. John’s. He has scored at least 13 points in his last four contests and is averaging 34.3 minutes per contest. Rysheed Jordan combines with Greene to complement Harrison in the backcourt, but Jordan has been inconsistent for the Red Storm. In his last three games, the sophomore has shot just 6-for-23.
If shorthanded Seton Hall wants to get back on the winning track, a big day needs to be in order from the frontcourt duo of senior Brandon Mobley and Delgado. After missing Tuesday’s game at Villanova, Mobley is expected to play Saturday after hyperextending his knee in Saturday’s 69-62 loss to Providence. The 6-foot-9 forward is tallying 9.8 points and 5.5 boards per game and gives SHU’s offense a new dimension when he is stretching the floor.
Delgado, who leads the league with 9.8 rebounds per game and scored 13 points along with 12 boards in the win over St. John’s on Dec. 31, could very well determine if the Pirates have a shot to get past the Red Storm.
St. John’s is powered by 6-6 Sir’Dominic Pointer, who has averaged 13.1 points and 7.4 boards per contest, but Chris Obekpa has not been the factor he once was. The 6-foot-10 junior has not started for the Red Storm in his last five games, dealing with a right high ankle sprain. Without him, Steve Lavin has looked for contributions from freshmen Joey De La Rosa and Amar Alibegovic, but the two have not combined for more than three points per game this season.
While both teams have depth issues, St. John’s has the experience factor won. With Whitehead and Carrington both likely to receive over 30 minutes per game on Saturday and Delgado being the go-to man down low, that leaves SHU in a tough spot entering Queens, but it’s an opportunity for the freshmen to take things into their own hands.
John Fanta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @John_Fanta.