Madison Square Garden was still Eden for No. 3-seeded Seton Hall on Friday night against second-seeded Xavier in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. Led by Khadeen Carrington, the Pirates pulled out an 87-83 victory.
For the second night in a row, Carrington was the king of New York. After dropping a career-high 27 points in an 81-73 victory over Xavier, the sophomore paced SHU with 23 points (8-of-11 from the field and 3-of-6 from deep), seven rebounds and three assists.
“This is what we came here for—we wanted to put Seton Hall back on the map,” Carrington said as he looked to fellow backcourt star Isaiah Whitehead. “We beat a good team tonight. Now we have to get some rest, enjoy this one and get ready for tomorrow.”
Fellow New Yorker Desi Rodriguez had high praise for Carrington.
“He’s been playing great. That’s what the coaches push him to do. He was struggling a little bit with not taking shots (earlier in the year). And coach wants him to take every shot he possibly can. His work is paying off. He put in extra work all summer and it’s paying off.”
Whitehead, a player many felt was deserving of the conference’s Player of the Year award, stayed hot against Xavier. The Coney Island native put up 20 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two blocks. The play of the game came at the 11-minute mark of the first half after Derrick Gordon slid across the floor to corral a loose ball. The senior flung it to Whitehead, who zipped a pass to Carrington for an easy bucket.
Chris Mack took a timeout, and MSG went wild. That was an accurate embodiment of the night for SHU.
The Pirates have had Xavier—the nation’s No. 5-ranked team—figured out. In the last meeting between the two on Feb. 28, SHU emerged with a 90-81 win.
After leading 41-30 at the break, Angel Delgado began the second half with a pair of and-1 scores—and a muscle pose. The big fella only had three points in Seton Hall’s quarterfinal victory over the Bluejays, but he answered the bell on Friday. The 6’9” center poured in 15 points and six rebounds.
“I got a lot of confidence with these guys,” Delgado said. “Every time they’re making shots, I just feel happy. I don’t care how many shots I make. I care about them, because they’re really good players. I really believe in my teammates.”
Throughout the game, though, Seton Hall did struggle with foul trouble. Delgado fouled out with about two minutes left—reserve big Rashed Anthony did, too—and five other players had three or more violations.
Still, head coach Kevin Willard and his team preserved.
“This is the Big East,” the conference’s Co-Coach of the Year said. “This is a physical conference. We were puppies last year. Now, we’re starting to turn into dogs.”
The Musketeers cut SHU’s lead to 58-52 with 11 minutes to go; Whitehead answered with a bomb of a triple. Then they cut it to 60-56 a minute later; Whitehead came back with a flying, spinning layup with his right hand. With less than two minutes to go, Xavier made a late push after SHU built up solid double-digit lead; Whitehead drew a foul and made one of two foul shots to calm the waters.
Thanks to its cold-blooded point guard, Seton Hall was able to absorb every punch and withstand every run.
“People used to ask me, ‘Why would you choose there (Seton Hall)?’” Whitehead said after the win. “Just look at me now. Just look at the team now.”
Seton Hall will take on top-seeded Villanova for the Big East title on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Garden.
“We don’t like Villanova,” Gordon said. “That’s going to be a battle tomorrow. There’s something about them I don’t like. I don’t like how they go about their business.”
The game will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1.
Thomas Duffy can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TJDhoops