It was not Seton Hall’s prettiest performance in the first half, but the Pirates overcame a sluggish start and poor first-half shooting to defeat NJIT on Saturday evening, 82-53. After holding a nine-point lead at the half, the Pirates rode a big second half to victory, as they outscored the Highlanders by 20 points.
Despite not playing much of the second half due to foul trouble, senior Desi Rodriguez led the way with 19 points and seven rebounds, while sophomore Myles Powell chipped in 13 points.
Freshman Sandro Mamukelashvili, after struggling through the first three games of the season, broke out against NJIT with the best game of his young career, scoring 11 points, coming down with nine boards and recording four blocks.
“Sandro was good,” coach Kevin Willard said. “We had a great talk last night, we watched some film and it was so minor with some of the stuff he was getting frustrated on; showing him that he was doing everything right, but he was just a second late or a step slow. Fixing those things is going to put him in position to get a rebound and get something good going his way. I think he gives great energy.”
Rodriguez got off to a fast start scoring the first five points of the game for Seton Hall, but NJIT hung around for the duration of the first half. Seton Hall opened things up a bit at the end of the half, scoring six straight points to extend the lead to 39-30 going into halftime.
“That’s a very tough and scrappy team,” Rodriguez said of NJIT. “They’re down the street from us and I knew they were going to come in and come at us, so we just had to keep our composure and do well down the stretch.”
NJIT did not go away at the start of the second half, trailing by only eight at the under-16 timeout. However, from that point on it was all Seton Hall, as the Pirates went on a 24-5 run to swing momentum in their favor, building a 76-48 lead by the under-4 timeout.
Myles Cale, who finished with 11 points on the day, joined Rodriguez, Powell, Mamukelashvili in playing a large part in the second half turnaround, combining for 31 of Seton Hall’s 43 second-half points.
After shooting 22 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, the Pirates were able to flip the switch and shoot 41 percent from three in the second half. Seton Hall also stepped it up a notch defensively, holding NJIT to 9-26 (34.6 percent) shooting from the field and 3-12 from deep.
“I thought we did a really good job on them defensively making them take tough shots,” Willard said. “That led us to some easy buckets and I felt that we were more efficient offensively. I thought the ball went from side-to-side and guys were getting second or third balls that gave us some good drives.”
Eron Gordon had an increased role off the bench, playing solid defense and contributing seven points. He will see a jump in minutes moving forward with the news that freshman point guard Jordan Walker will be out at least three weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb, according to Willard.
Notably missing almost the entire second half was Angel Delgado, who finished the day with just five points on 1-7 shooting and two rebounds. Delgado was subbed out at the 18:14 mark of the second half and did not return thanks to what Willard called a minor calf injury.
“On one of the last drives, he tripped over Abdul [Lewis]’s leg and had a little calf thing, nothing major,” Willard said. “I just wasn’t going to put him back in. He’s logged a lot of minutes already early in the season and he’s been a workhorse. I wasn’t going to mess around with that and technically gave him the night off, which he deserves.”
The Pirates will be off until Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 23 when they take on Rhode Island at the Barclays Center as a part of the NIT Tip-Off tournament. With Willard granting the team a day off tomorrow, Rodriguez is looking forward to getting back to work on Monday and preparing for the challenge that lies ahead.
“We’re going to get back in on Monday fresh and start practice off fresh,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to be great for us and we’re going to have a lot of good things heading into the tournament on Thursday.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.