Once you get a taste of something sweet, usually you want another bite.
Seton Hall got a taste of the sweet life on Thursday, defeating NC State for the seniors’ first NCAA Tournament victory. But the Pirates did not come to Wichita to win just one game — they want it all, and they want to work for it just like they have through their careers.
While the future has yet to be determined, Seton Hall’s seniors have paved their paths through hard work. Some may see the first-round victory as the feather in the Pirates’ caps, but it is not in this group of four to settle for the present.
That in part stems from their coach Kevin Willard, who did not want to let his team down if the Pirates saw defeat Thursday.
“I think the biggest things that if we had lost that I was going to be disappointed about is I always preach to these guys: No matter what in life, if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded,” Willard said.
The hard work brought a Big East Championship. The hard work brought three 20-win seasons. But the hard work had not yet brought an NCAA victory until March 15.
“They’re not a lazy group,” Willard said. “It’s just for them to get rewarded for all their hard work, I think that was the biggest thing and the most — that’s what I’m feeling right now is that it kind of validates everything that we’ve done and the fact that they’ve worked so hard for four years.”
That work is shown through the long practices, putting up some of the best efforts of the season in the four practices following the Big East Tournament loss to Butler on March 8. It is also seen as the team looking at an obstacle and viewing it as a reward.
The need for validation described the Pirates’ fight seen against NC State. The pressure did not rattle the veterans, and that was the validation needed after two years of succumbing to the weight.
“Our main focus was staying focused,” Khadeen Carrington said. “Last year we couldn’t get over the hump, and I think this year guys came in focused, came in real businesslike, and we’re not done yet, and we’re trying to keep it going.”
Attaining a goal requires work and a plan, and so does defeating a No. 1 seed. It is nothing Seton Hall has not done already, at least when it comes to beating No. 1-seed caliber talent in the Big East Tournament.
With Kansas, the stakes are raised. The crowd will be packed and heavily in favor of the Jayhawks and Seton Hall will have opportunity knocking on its door.
Seton Hall’s seniors understand the importance of preparation, and even if Desi Rodriguez’s tips on Kansas do not make the coaches’ scouting reports, the team’s effort does not stop until the season is over.
“We gotta focus, watch film on a great Kansas team and hope to keep winning games, just keep knocking down teams,” Rodriguez said. “That’s our focus.”
When updating the NCAA Tournament bracket in the post-game locker room, Angel Delgado held the Seton Hall label in his hands and pointed it towards the Final Four logo.
“Are you sure it’s not there?,” Delgado said.
After Delgado moved the label to its rightful place in the second round against Kansas, another voice chipped in.
“Long way to go,” he said.
The only way to earn that spot is what has defined the seniors’ accomplishments through four years, and that is the work towards a goal. One NCAA Tournament win brought validation, but now the Pirates are hungry for a second bite.
“I feel like we did everything,” Carrington said. “The only thing that was missing, we had a monkey on our back with the NCAA Tournament. So, just getting this one. I feel like once you get out the first round, anything can happen.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.