Defense wins championships.
That is a phrase commonly heard in sports, but for the Seton Hall men’s basketball team, defense is something that has become a mindset on the court.
Since the start of conference play, the Pirates rank first in the Big East in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 39 percent shooting from the floor. Despite having the sixth-best scoring defense since the start of conference play, Seton Hall still holds the second-place spot in points allowed for the entire season.
The Pirates’ defense has turned up the pressure in the past few games, holding their last two opponents to less than 70 points in back-to-back victories. Over the same span, the team has forced 17 steals. On the season, SHU is averaging 7.3 steals per game, good enough for third in the conference.
That defensive pressure is something that head coach Kevin Willard emphasizes, according to guard Derrick Gordon.
“He definitely puts a lot of pressure on me, but I do not consider it pressure because growing up I always played defense,” Gordon said. “Once I got here, he just wanted me to be able to transfer it to the younger guys and let them know that it is more than just of- fense.”
That defense has even turned into one of the league’s best offenses since Dec. 30, with the team holding the second-best scoring average in the Big East at 75 points a contest.
With sophomore Angel Delgado near the top of the Big East in rebounding and the Pirates leading the conference in defensive rebounds per game since league play started, limiting second-chance opportunities has helped propel the offense as well, according to Gordon.
“At the beginning of the season we were letting a lot of second-chance shots in,” Gordon said. “That is how we were losing games, because the other teams were getting the ball back. Now we know how big of a difference it is when you are able to rebound the ball and get out in transition.”
In the Pirates’ win over Creighton last Saturday, SHU limited the Bluejays to 65 points and held them to 42-percent shooting, including 26 percent from behind the arc.
With each and every game this season, this young Seton Hall team has looked more in-sync on the defensive end and more improved as a unit on the floor. However, that does not mean the Pirates have perfected the art of defense.
When the team begins to falter on the defensive side of the ball, Willard will “either start yelling or tell me to pick these guys up,” Gordon said.
“I always bring (Isaiah Whitehead) or (Khadeen Carrington) or (Desi Rodriguez) in and tell them we need to pick it up,” he added.
As the Pirates turn the corner and head toward the homestretch of the conference season, they will look to continue playing stingy defense while fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth.
“Defense is going to be the key to whether we win games or not,” Gordon said. “Coach Willard always tells us that when we play defense, if we can get rebounds, we can get in transition and get easy buckets.”
Kevin Huebler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Hueblerkevin.