Seton Hall’s seniors have always been chasers. They chased rankings. They chased legacies. They chased greatness.
In the team’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against Kansas on Saturday, that role was no different. A No. 8 seed against a No. 1 in an environment fit for a Kansas fan put Seton Hall as the chaser on the biggest stage the seniors have seen.
It was only fitting Seton Hall found itself in that role throughout the game.
Seton Hall fell to Kansas, 83-79, in a game that Seton Hall did not quit. The Pirates opened the evening tentatively but finished it by knocking on Kansas’ door.
“I think we played kind of the best game that we ever played,” Angel Delgado said. “The guys left everything on the floor and I’m really proud of my teammates and I would not change these guys for anybody in the country.”
In the first half, neither team was at the top of their game. Seton Hall was sloppy, turning the ball over eight times in the first half and letting Kansas breathe life into its struggling offense.
The Pirates went scoreless for a five-minute stretch during the first half that Kansas took advantage of with a 10-0 run. But in the next five minutes, Seton Hall tied the game again with good work from a lineup that featured Eron Gordon, Myles Powell, Angel Delgado, Mike Nzei and Desi Rodriguez.
The Pirates took their largest lead of the game with that run, going up by four with under five minutes left in the first half. An extended 18-5 run showed what Seton Hall could accomplish when holding Kansas down and running a fluid offense.
After losing that lead and entering halftime on the back end of a 5-0 Kansas run, Seton Hall never saw the lead again. But the seniors never stopped wanting it.
In his final game as a Pirate, Delgado poured his heart out. He dominated the court to the extent that he put up a double-double in both halves of the game. He notched a double-double in just 13 minutes of playing time, making the paint and protecting the glass his mission.
Delgado finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, becoming just the fifth player in the last 40 years to break 20 points and 20 rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game. Delgado made it his mission to not let the game slip by, getting his hands on the ball almost every possession and working the paint to his advantage.
“I thought he was obviously the best player in the game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of Delgado. “Well, Malik [Newman] for us and Delgado for them. Well, [Khadeen] Carrington was pretty good, too, but [Delgado] was a man. He was a man. And we knew he was good.”
Everything Delgado has worked on over the last four years came down to his performance, giving his team second chances and showing what he can contribute.
“His offensive rebounding kept us alive,” coach Kevin Willard said. “His motor is second to none, and you know, 38 minutes against – 22 against [Udoka] Azubuike, having to guard Devonte’ Graham’s pick and rolls, that’s an unbelievable effort by our big guy. And like I said, someone in the NBA is going to be really happy next year that he’s on their roster.”
Not only did Delgado’s heart shine throughout the game, but Khadeen Carrington broke out like a lion chasing its prey in the second half. After not making a basket in the first half, Carrington turned on another gear as Kansas came out of halftime firing.
After shooting 41.9 percent from the field in the first half, Kansas shot 60 percent in the second, draining shots that countered almost every Seton Hall threat. The Pirates’ biggest threat came in Carrington, who went 5-of-5 from three after starting the game 0-of-3.
Carrington had 26 second-half points to round out his 28 on the game, and he was the reason Seton Hall challenged Kansas in the final minutes after the Jayhawks led by as many as 13 points with 12 minutes to go. He drained threes, created in the paint and forced Kansas to make shots in response.
Seton Hall cut the lead to four with four minutes left in the game, but Kansas earned the win by responding to each threat. The Jayhawks made a three-pointer after missing six of their seven last shots to stop SHU’s run and answered the rest of the way by making free throws to weather the Pirates’ offensive storm.
The Pirates ended the game making five straight shots, including a Myles Powell three-pointer that beat the buzzer. Shots starting falling for Seton Hall too late, and Kansas had answers for nearly every one.
“I thought it was an extremely well-played game by both teams,” Willard said. “I felt the kids really left everything out on the floor for both teams. Proud of the way my guys kept fighting back. Just gotta give Kansas a lot of credit. They hit a lot of big shots late and earned a hard-fought win.”
The loss marked the last game Seton Hall’s seniors wore the Pirate uniform. Delgado did not want it to end with the team having unfinished business.
“It really sucks, basically,” Delgado said. “It really sucks to leave like this right now because we got so much expectation. We want to win everything and we want to be the best team in the tournament, but it’s one winner and one loser and we’re the losing team right now.”
But it was not a game where Seton Hall backed down.
Throughout, Seton Hall had its fair share of mistakes – easy baskets were not finished, fastbreak opportunities were squandered and 15 turnovers transformed into 20 easy points for the Jayhawks.
But with each mistake, there was no pouting. Instead, there was a Pirate clapping to show support. There was a nod that the mistake would not happen again. There was a pat on the back that showed the teammates held no grudges.
That is what Seton Hall basketball has been about for the past four years, and what the seniors left on the floor in their final game. Mistakes happened, but no one blamed anyone else – instead, the team came together and played as the underdog.
For the Pirates, being the chasers was never a burden with the bond they had. Being the chasers gave Seton Hall a shot at defeating a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Alongside each other, being the chasers gave Seton Hall something worth fighting for.
“This game was exactly how their career is,” Willard said. “Not pretty at all times, but absolutely unbelievable grit, unbelievable effort. And they never, ever walked off the floor without giving it their all, and I think that’s something that not a whole lot of kids can say for their career.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @eswint22.