While wearing some 1989 Bruce Springsteen-inspired throwback jerseys, the Seton Hall men’s basketball team successfully recaptured some of its glory on Saturday against Wichita State. SHU won 80-76 in OT as time slipped away from the resilient Shockers.
Desi Rodriguez broke out for a team-high 18 points while adding four boards while his high school teammate Isaiah Whitehead ended up with 17 and five. Derrick Gordon excelled defensively on Wichita State’s star backcourt while slashing to the cup for eight total points.
It was a complete team effort against an opponent that has turned the college basketball world on its head in recent years.
Last season, the seventh-seeded Shockers upset Kansas to move on to the Elite Eight. The year prior, star guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet carried the team to within a three-pointer of the National Championship game.
But on Sunday, things were different. VanVleet and Baker, both seniors, had 19 and 16 respective scoring outings, but they were unable to do what they always seem to—scrap out the win.
“You got to give Seton Hall credit,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said of his team, which uncharacteristically had 21 turnovers, three more than SHU. “They were taking care of the ball. In the second half they were driving it and not losing it.”
Seton Hall’s young roster pulled off the upset on the veteran Shockers thanks to a balanced scoring attack that would not relent, even in the game’s most pressure-packed moments.
Every time the Pirates made a run early on, Wichita State answered. Whether it was a VanVleet bomb, a Baker layup or a triple from Conner Frankamp, the Shockers were in control. But Seton Hall kept coming.
“In the past, we’ve been knocked down, and we’ve run for the hills,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “They came out and knocked us down and knocked us down. And, for the first time, what I saw was guys taking a step towards the fight. We didn’t run for the hills. To me, that’s important. Even if we lost this game, I think that would’ve been a really big step for us.”
After going into the break losing 40-32, SHU refused to lay down in the second half.
Freshman forward Veer Singh drilled a three-pointer to bring his team within a point, 54-53, with eight minutes to go. Gordon took the lead with a one-handed slam a possession later. Khadeen Carrington struggled from the field, but he drew a charge on VanVleet the next time down.
The highlight of the afternoon, though, was Rodriguez nearly tearing the rim from the glass with a ferocious two-handed slam. After he struggled to start the contest, Willard told Rodriguez in the halftime locker room to “go try to dunk on somebody.”
He did—and the Prudential Center crowd went nuts. “That’s when he’s his best,” Willard said.
Rodriguez looked like a star in the second half, and his team continued to seek him out, both inside and on the perimeter.
“He’s playing phenomenal. There’s not much you can say,” Whitehead said. “He’s developing at that position, and that’s big for him, to play so well against Wichita State.”
Angel Delgado notched his fourth straight double-double with 14 points and 11 boards. When in doubt, SHU kicked it in to the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year for a turnaround baby hook.
“We never stop,” Delgado said. “We’re not letting anybody stop us. That’s our mentality right now. Nobody expected us to be that good, but we’ll show everybody who we are.”
The Shockers entered the game 5-4, but VanVleet was sidelined for three of those losses. Come March—which is when Wichita State butters its bread—this win will shine on Seton Hall’s potential NCAA Tournament resume.
Wichita State defeated Seton Hall at home last season, 77-68. With another year under their belts, the Pirates outplayed one of the most battle-tested, veteran teams in the nation.
“We know how it feels to lose and we know how it feels to win,” Whitehead said. “That’s the difference between this year and last year. We actually can pull out wins, we actually can come from 11 down, 13 down. We believe we’re as good as anyone we’re going to play.”
Down the stretch, one team played like a national powerhouse. One team stayed aggressive while keeping its poise. One team looked like it had been there before.
And for a change, that team wasn’t Wichita State.
Thomas Duffy can be reached at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TJDhoops.