Fists were pumping on Seton Hall’s bench with a minute to go. After weathering a Wolfpack run that saw NC State come within three of the Pirates, an 8-0 Pirate run opened the door for history.
With a reinvigorated gameplan, Seton Hall drove itself to its first NCAA Tournament victory in 14 years and the seniors’ first of their careers in a 94-83 defeat of NC State in Wichita, Kan.
“The four seniors have put so much time, effort and work into this program, and for them to be rewarded with a hard-fought win just kind of validates everything that they’ve done, all they worked they’ve put in, and just really proud of them,” coach Kevin Willard said.
The Pirates sealed the game by making their free throws, but the entire game was not decided that way. A game that was heavy in fouls, with a total of 53 shared between the two teams and five players fouling out, started out with a downpour of threes.
Seton Hall was the first to strike from beyond the arc, building a lead as large as 13, but NC State found its answer from the three-point line as well. A team scouted as a threat from distance, the Wolfpack went on a 9-0 run with three straight three-pointers to come to within one of the Pirates. Allerick Freeman, NC State’s leading scorer with 36 points, was a threat from three all game, draining six.
What defined Seton Hall was the way it responded to adversity. That Wolfpack jab was answered with a 7-0 Pirate run, powered by Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo, feeding energy back into the Pirates on offense and defense. Sanogo, finishing with 10 points and 10 boards, gave Seton Hall an important presence inside in game-defining moments. Rodriguez also stepped up with a recovering ankle, putting up 20 points in 29 minutes off the bench.
“I told coach before the game, just trust me and believe in me,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s what he did. And I just want to thank him for putting me on the floor for that amount of time.”
Seton Hall had a big first half in terms of offense, scoring 51 points on 61.3 percent shooting. It was about as good of a start that the Pirates could have asked for.
The second scare from NC State came in the second half, where a Seton Hall team that shot 7-of-13 from three in the first half went 0-of-8 from distance in the second. The Pirates shot 27 percent from the field in the first eight minutes of the second half, and NC State chipped away at a deficit that stayed at two possessions for the majority of the game.
With NC State’s big men in foul trouble, including seven-footer Omer Yurtseven, the Pirates looked inside for an answer. Angel Delgado worked out of difficulty to contribute inside but picked up his fourth foul on the other end with eight minutes left.
Seton Hall saw its lead dwindle to three at that time, a moment at which the game could have gone either way. Carrington, scoring 13 of his team-high 26 points in the last eight minutes, powered the team alongside Myles Powell to go on an 8-0 run where the Pirates stole all momentum.
“I don’t think scoring was really on my mind that much,” Carrington said. “I think it was just securing the ball, and then I just took what the defense gave me and I just happened to get a couple buckets. But I think really securing the ball, that was really what was on my mind.”
The Pirates took care of the ball against a Wolfpack that loves to press and score in transition. Committing just two turnovers in the second half and seven in the game, Seton Hall worked out of NC State’s defensive scheme and did not allow it to feed off mistakes.
“Everybody, from myself down to the last person that came off the bench, gave us everything they had,” Carrington said. “They gave us great minutes, we’re going to need that on Saturday.”
Finishing out the game by making free throws, an area where the team put up a 31-of-39 mark for the afternoon, Seton Hall came away with an NCAA Tournament win four years in the making. The game held a season-high in scoring and free throws made, two areas that have been weaknesses at points that Seton Hall used as strengths Thursday.
“It’s great, it’s great,” Delgado said. “Coming here, getting our first win, knowing these 14 years this team took to win a game in the tournament, it’s just great, but we just want to make our legacy better every single time.”
Rodriguez shouted in elation to the crowd and the Seton Hall faithful that made the trip as the final buzzer rang. Another accomplishment was crossed off the list, but that feat wills the team to make another one.
“I mean, it feels great. I’m overwhelmed right now. Just so happy about getting this win,” Rodriguez said. “But our next focus is Kansas. This was a tough, hard-nosed team that we just faced, NC State. Coach said if we get past the first round, anything can happen.”
— The Setonian Sports (@SetonianSports) March 15, 2018
Following two straight NCAA Tournament first-round losses, Seton Hall filled its name in on the bracket in the locker room as Delgado placed No. 8 Seton Hall alongside No. 1 Kansas in the second round. The bout will come on Saturday, March 17, and in the Pirates’ eyes after this victory, there is more for the taking.
“[The win] does a lot [for our legacy], but if we win Saturday, it will be way better,” Delgado said. “Right now it’s great, it’s great, we won a game, but we cannot get happy with one game. We gotta get happy when we win everything.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.