It was a night in Denver 10 years in the making, but one that ultimately ended in disappointment as Seton Hall fell to Gonzaga 68-52 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Dancing for the first time in a decade, the No. 6-seeded Pirates fell victim to the No. 11-seeded Bulldogs and their bombardment of big men. Domantas Sabonis terrorized Seton Hall’s interior all night, recording 21 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two swats. Alongside him was Kyle Wiltjer, who added 13 points and seven boards of his own. Overall, the Zags bullied the Hall in the paint, ending the night with a 32-26 scoring edge and 48-34 rebounding advantage.
“I didn’t do my job,” Angel Delgado said of guarding Sabonis.
“I’d say he’s the toughest matchup we’ve had this year just because of how good Wiltjer’s been playing and how he shoots it,” head coach Kevin Willard said of Gonzaga’s frontcourt. “It makes doubling him (Sabonis) really hard; I mean really hard.”
As the Bulldogs’ stars shined, Seton Hall’s did not. Isaiah Whitehead had what he called one of his worst shooting performances, going 4-24 and 0-10 from downtown on his way to a 10-point night. While he did have a game-high eight assists, Whitehead’s inability to score doomed a Pirates team that shot 32 percent as a unit.
“It was just an off night,” he said after the game.
Willard said he never took away Whitehead’s green light.
“He’s been our guy all year,” Willard said. “You can’t take the reins off it because, again, I have so much confidence I thought the next one was going to go in. When you have that confidence in your players, you’re not going to sit there and say, Okay, stop shooting because you’re not feeling it.”
Now, there are plenty of questions for a Seton Hall team that surprised many this year. Derrick Gordon – who had 10 points in the culmination of his career – will be missed both in the locker room and on the defensive end. The transfer took the time to reflect on his brief but memorable time in South Orange.
“Coming in I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “My senior year – finishing out the way we did, would have wished things went a lot better tonight. But overall I felt I had a pretty good career finishing off.”
Then there is the matter of Whitehead, whose play down the stretch prompted talks of declaring for the NBA Draft. As it stands, the sophomore does not appear on any reputable mock draft boards.
Whitehead said after the game that he had not yet made a decision on his future and that he would have to talk with his mother. Whitehead’s decision will have a consequential impact on Seton Hall’s future.
As of now though, the Pirates’ season – one that began with them being picked seventh in the Big East and ended with them making the Big Dance – is over. Despite the finish, Delgado remained confident in his team after the game.
“We’ll be back next year,” he said.
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.