by Josh Adams, @NCAAHoopsDigest
Newark, NJ-– Two Big East teams whom are both squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble met Wednesday night at the Prudential Center as Seton Hall hosted Xavier. The Musketeers won their previous match-up in Cincinnati, 72-71. The Pirates hoped to end their three game home stand with their second win in the tough triad that saw them beat Creighton but lose to Villanova.
Thanks to a cold spell from Xavier down the stretch in the second half and the exceptional play from Pirates center Angel Delgado the Pirates made a strong case for the NCAA Tournament with a 71-64 win in front of 7,139 faithful in Newark on Wednesday night.
Delgado was in his usual form that has defined him as one of the best centers in the NCAA. Using his usual variety of low-post moves, Delgado ended the game with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Xavier simply didn’t have anything left in the tank to stop Delgado or Desi Rodriguez who hit several key shots down the stretch to put the game on ice.
The first half was very competitive with the teams exchanging leads. Trevon Blueitt returned the Xavier lineup after an injury and made an immediate impact with hitting a three pointer out of the gate to give the Musketeers an early lead. Xavier extended their lead to 7 midway through the first half as the Pirates committed several turnovers. Delgado scored five straight points to bring Seton Hall back into the ballgame and the teams went into halftime with Xavier holding a slim 31-30 lead.
The second half saw Xavier go up by 5 points early in the second stanza as the Musketeers J.P. Macura hit a few jumpers. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard inserted freshman Myles Powell in order to generate some offense and the move succeeded as Powell hit a three pointer to tie the game at 41. Powell’s spark ignited the Seton Hall offense down the stretch as Rodriguez used an assortment of moves to hit a few baskets. From the 7:26 mark to the 1:59 mark of the second half, the Pirates held the Musketeers scoreless. It seemed like every carom went Seton Hall’s way. The win was punctuated by a Rodriguez dunk at the buzzer.
Delgado had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Pirates (17-10, 7-8 conference). Rodriguez had 22 points. For Xavier (18-10, 8-7 conference) Macura had 22 points and Bluiett had 14. This was Xavier’s fourth consecutive Big East loss.
Rodriguez scored his 1,000th point as a Seton Hall Pirate midway through the second half. He joins his teammates Delgado and Carrington as members of that elite club.
Asked after the game about having three 1,000 point scorers on his team, Willard pointed out that none of them came into college as a particular scoring threat. “It shows the amount of hard work they’ve put in.”, said Willard.
With beating Creighton and Xavier during this home-stand, the Pirates faithful can probably look forward to a second consecutive NCAA berth. After years of futility, this special core of juniors have brought Seton Hall out of the college basketball wilderness and back into the limelight. For Carrington, Delgado and Rodriguez, their names will probably be on banners in Walsh Gymnasium, next to the banners of a Big East Championship and the NCAA Tournaments they brought to their university.