By John Fanta, @John_Fanta
NEWARK — Kevin Willard used the same formula that he’s rode out the last four years on Wednesday night, and why wouldn’t he? It’s the same one that’s seen the eighth-year Seton Hall skipper see the greatest success of his tenure, with a BIG EAST championship in 2016 and back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths. Hammering the Indiana Hoosiers with a 51-point second half inside a lively Prudential Center, the Pirate senior class powered the blue and white to an 84-68 win.
While it’s the same formula, what’s the difference? The Hall made it look easy against a Big Ten team, showing why there’s a number next to their name. While Indiana’s in a rebuilding year under Archie Miller, SHU has hit its biggest climax in nearly 30 years.
“They responded the way they’ve done in the last couple of years,” Willard said of his team. “They know when you play a BIG 10 team and you have good players, you’re not going to blow everyone out. You have to battle.”
What was the key to turning a one-point lead what was 20 at one point in the second half? The nation’s leading rebounder.
Angel Delgado scored 15 of his 19 points in the second stanza while tacking on 11 rebounds and four assists. The performance gave the Dominican big man his NCAA-leading 53rd double-double.
“The biggest difference in his (Delgado’s) game is he’s become an elite passer out of the post,” said Willard. “He knows most nights he’s going to get a lot of touches, so he’s become unselfish.”
Unselfishness is nice, but The Hall fed its star big man early and often in the second half.
“Coach Willard told us to feed me,” said a smiling Delgado. “That’s what we did. I didn’t want to let us or the BIG EAST down tonight.”
What Delgado’s referring to is the third annual Gavitt Games, pitting the BIG EAST and Big Ten together for opening week. Seton Hall gave the BIG EAST its first win on the week after the Big Ten took the opening two.
“The fact that we honor Dave is tremendous, because he was the BIG EAST,” said Willard. “It’s special, and the kids understand there was a guy that laid it all on the line so they can play in this great conference.”
Meanwhile, Desi Rodriguez put up a game-high 23 points on 8-of-12 from the field while Khadeen Carrington racked up a 17-point, five-assist night in Newark.
“We’ve been in this role many times,” said Carrington of the win. “We regrouped at the half and having the experiences that we’ve gone through, that’s what powered us. We’re comfortable in any situation.”
Comfortable. That’s what Seton Hall feels like right now – phased by absolutely nothing.
Seton Hall has not won an NCAA Tournament in 13 years. Through the opening week of the season, there’s nothing more the Pirates could have done to show that they can get that long-awaited Big Dance win, and maybe even more. That’s why there’s a buzz brewing in New Jersey.