Nearly every player that dressed for the Seton Hall men’s basketball team, including two walk-ons, saw the floor on Friday in a dominant 90-68 opening night win over Fairleigh Dickinson.
The cold temperatures that hit the Newark, N.J. area did not stop fans from coming to Prudential Center to produce an atmosphere before tip-off that surpassed any November game in recent years.
Despite the excitement, though, Fairleigh stole the show in the early stages, opening up with a 12-5 lead powered by Knight forwards Mike Holloway and Kaleb Bishop.
Ironically, with the hype leading up to the season-opening tip focused on the Seton Hall seniors, it would be true freshmen Jordan Walker and Myles Cale, along with sophomore Eron Gordon whose insertion to the game offered a change in momentum.
Once the senior quartet of Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo stepped back onto the court, the motor began to run for the No. 23 Pirates as they went on a 12-0 run, led by Rodriguez, who had nine of the 12 points.
“I think I’m in the best shape I’ve possibly been in since I’ve been here,” Rodriguez said. “I put a lot of work in over the summer, got my weight down and I’m working the floor a lot better.”
The freshmen continued to see time and make their impact in the first half, with Cale hitting some long and short-range shots, while Sandro Mamukelashvili hit two from the free-throw line as the duo combined for seven of 10 points for the Pirates during a stretch late in the first half.
After an off-season in which Cale struggled with recovery from surgery for a torn labrum, Cale turned the page with 12 points to lead the way among Pirate debutants.
“The play right before [I made my first shot], a guy blocked my shot; blocked my shot really well too,” Cale said. “So, I was like, ‘yeah, welcome to college.’ So, I needed that one bucket. [The first basket] made me feel a lot better.”
Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard was not kidding before the season when he said this team was his deepest ever, and that the Pirates would play 10 or 11 deep.
The Pirates ended up playing 12 deep in fact, with 10 getting regular minutes. Sophomore Eron Gordon and the freshmen trio of Cale, Mamukelashvili and Walker all recorded at least five minutes each in the first half. By games’ end, the four had 16, 19, 20 and 18 minutes, respectively.
“Myles is a good player; [there is a] reason why he’s a top-50 kid,” Willard said. “What’s impressive about Myles is that he had surgery in April, did not even start practicing until October. So, he’s really worked hard to get his game back, and I don’t think it’s where it was before he got hurt.”
Shooting for the Knights cooled down as the first half went on. Farleigh opened the game converting on five of its six shots in the opening five minutes but finished the first half only making six more, while the team missed on 16.
The Knights could never pull the score back in the second half, as the Pirates gave their youth more minutes with a lineup of Walker, Gordon, Cale, Mamukelashvili and the lone veteran Delgado playing most of the final ten minutes.
Delgado only totaled 22 minutes, but those 22 were all he needed to secure his 51st career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Seton Hall takes the Prudential Center court once again on Sunday, continuing the theme of Garden State opposition with Monmouth. It’s a short turnaround compared to the eight-month wait that proceeded this game, but the transition to playing again, and playing at the Prudential Center, is nothing new to Rodriguez as he begins his fourth collegiate season.
“We didn’t play our best, but, we had a great game today,” Rodriguez said. “Usually we have a practice here, a few practices here before we play here [at the Prudential Center], but this year we just played here. So, it was kind of a new stage for the younger guys, and us older guys not being here for so long, we just have to get used to it again. So, happy we got this one out and now we back at the Rock.”
Tip-off for that Sunday date with Monmouth is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.