DePaul always seems to demonize the Pirates.
That was the case on Saturday, though Seton Hall was able to escape the Prudential Center with a 78-74 win that had the home team’s faithful on the edge of their seats.
The Pirates closed the first half on a sluggish note, ending the first 20 minutes of play up 35-34. DePaul then kicked off the second with a triple by Aaron Simpson and from there the dog fight was on.
DePaul only led by two at the most, but the Blue Demons and Pirates found themselves tied up six different times. DePaul, who beat SHU twice last year, kept up thanks to a flurry of threes, shooting 8-16 from deep. By comparison, the Pirates shot just 4-22 from long range. Had it not been for an overall 49 percent (29-59) mark from the floor – which included a 44-30 edge in the paint – the Pirates would have been in trouble.
Things got scary in the closing seconds as Derrick Gordon mistakenly fouled DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr. with the Hall up three and 3.2 seconds left on the clock. Garrett Jr. went to the line for three shots, but would miss the first to all but seal the deal on the Pirates win.
“It was a rookie mistake,” Gordon said of the foul. “It was just a bad mistake by me.”
Desi Rodriguez found himself in actual trouble, earning a second half benching after a dispute with coaches. The sophomore had disagreed with Kevin Willard’s decision to substitute him at the 5:27 point in the first half.
“He said some things that my players just don’t say,” the coach explained. “No players talk like that. Not in this world.”
Willard added that he has not decided on Rodriguez’s status going forward.
“It’s a wakeup call. You can’t talk back. You’ve got to be able to take constructive criticism,” Gordon, one of the team’s vets, said of the incident. “As a fifth-year senior; I have to talk to him cause I’ve been there.”
Isaiah Whitehead, who went to high school with Rodriguez, said his coach is not taking any “B.S.”
“He’s going to get after you,” Whitehead said of Willard. “If you respond in a negative way –he’s the coach – whatever he says goes… Last year we were freshmen and he treated us like babies. This year as sophomores we’ve been through it so he’s basically on us in practice, games, off the court. He’s a totally different guy.”
Despite Rodriguez’s absence, Seton Hall ended up victorious thanks to its ensemble cast of contributors. The Pirates had five players finish in double figures. Leading the way was Whitehead, who had 18 points and nine assists.
Angel Delgado earned his seventh straight double-double, tallying 12 points and 12 rebounds. Khadeen Carrington added 14 points and four assists while Ismael Sanogo and Gordon each picked up 10 points.
Garrett Jr. led the way for DePaul, racking up 20 points and eight assists in the close contest. With the win, Seton Hall is now 12-2 and off to a 2-0 start in Big East play, the same spot the team was in this time last year.
Next on the docket is Villanova. The Hall will be on the road when they take on the Wildcats on Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m.
Gary Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.