Over the past few weeks, Seton Hall has been missing an element of its game that it thrived on in the beginning of the season – energetic play.
In the form of diving for loose balls, deflecting passes and slapping the floor, a rejuvenated Seton Hall team came out on Sunday afternoon and defeated DePaul by a final score of 82-77 to end a four-game losing streak.
The victory did not come easily, as DePaul hung around until the end. However, a career-high 33-point outburst from Seton Hall forward Desi Rodriguez was too much for the Blue Demons to handle.
“With Desi, it’s only a matter of time before he gets going,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s been our best and most consistent offensive player over the past five games.”
Things got off to a slow start for Rodriguez and everyone else on the floor, as both Seton Hall and DePaul struggled to get into a rhythm early on. By the U-16 timeout, the two teams had turned the ball over a combined seven times.
In an effort to overcome the sluggish start, Willard turned to his bench and freshman Myles Cale, who provided an instant impact with five quick points. By the U-12 timeout, all three freshmen were on the court, as Willard showed increased faith in his young players following a strong showing in the second half against Xavier earlier in the week.
“Myles Cale played really well in the first half,” Willard said. “Again, I think the freshmen have been really progressing great.”
“He was great,” Angel Delgado said of Cale. “When you see those guys coming off the bench coming in, playing hard, you get motivated. It’s really good seeing those guys from the bench come in and play hard.”
While Cale provided a minor spark, it was Delgado who got the Pirates going in a big way. Delgado, who finished with 16 points and 19 rebounds on the afternoon, was diving on the floor for loose balls despite dealing with a lingering knee injury and playing with enthusiasm that had not been seen since the beginning of Seton Hall’s four-game losing streak.
”Something he’s been missing from his game is his enthusiasm and energy,” Willard said. “I think when you’re hurt, that’s one of the things that goes right away because you start thinking about it a whole lot more instead of just playing. He feels really good right now and he got back to playing basketball and playing the way he always plays.
“He is our emotional leader, by far. He always has been, he has been since day one when he stepped on campus. He’s been the guy that these guys really feed off of.”
Delgado’s energy rubbed off on his teammates, as the Pirates went on a 15-3 run featuring a Khadeen Carrington floor slap heading into the U-4 timeout of the first half. With a chance to put DePaul away coming out of the timeout, the Blue Demons displayed some resilience and responded with a 10-0 run of their own, trailing 38-36 at the half.
“It’s the Big East,” Delgado said. “They’re going to make their run, we’re going to make our run, so we had to stay in it mentally the whole time.”
The beginning of the second half marked the commencement of Rodriguez’ scoring onslaught, as he scored 24 of his 33 points in the half. By the 14:43 mark, Seton Hall held a 52-44 lead and DePaul called another timeout to stop the bleeding.
With another chance to put DePaul away coming out of the timeout, the Blue Demons continued to go punch-for-punch with the Pirates, cutting Seton Hall’s lead to 66-61 with 5:25 remaining behind a strong shooting performance from center Marin Maric, who finished the day with 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
As DePaul continued to cut into Seton Hall’s lead, the Pirates were forced to deal with foul trouble that plagued them down the stretch. Just before the U-4 timeout, Ismael Sanogo picked up his fifth foul attempting to block a DePaul dunk, leaving Seton Hall without its best defender for the final four minutes of the game.
Fortunately for the Pirates, Rodriguez continued to carry the team on offense, draining a huge three from the wing to give Seton Hall 75-68 lead with just under two minutes remaining. DePaul followed up the Rodriguez three with a miss at the other end, leading to Carrington heading to the line with a chance to put Seton Hall up eight with just over a minute left.
After knocking down both free throws, Carrington was called for blocking foul, his fifth of the game. That left freshman Jordan Walker running the show for the final 68 seconds.
It was a perilous 68 seconds for Seton Hall, as DePaul stole the Pirates’ ensuing inbounds pass and got a quick layup to make it a 77-73 game with 59.6 seconds remaining. Two missed free throws and a loose ball foul from Walker gave DePaul a chance to inch closer, as the Blue Demons had Seton Hall’s lead down to 77-74 with 36.5 left.
Clutch free throw shooting from Rodriguez helped Seton Hall get the final edge and despite a heavily contested three from Strus, to make the score 79-77 with 27.3 seconds remaining, Rodriguez iced the game at the line and gave Seton Hall a much-needed win.
“It was a huge win,” Willard said. “7-7 [in Big East play], any win at this time of year is a big one and this was a big one.”
“We knew how important this game was,” Rodriguez said of the win. “We’re not trying to throw away a good season.”
With Sunday afternoon’s game in the books, the focus now shifts to the stretch run, as Seton Hall has four games left to pick up some signature wins before the Big East Tournament.
“We need these wins, we need to get to at least 20,” Delgado said.
“The losses were tough and hard, but the bounce-back win felt good,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, we can pick up some more wins heading into the Big East Tournament.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.