Seton Hall came into this game with a chance to pass a number of teams in the Big East standings. They won and did pass two teams in the process, but bigger things were accomplished in this game that could set the Pirates up for a fun end to the season. Isaiah Whitehead suited up against Xavier and it was the first time he had played since Dec. 21. It did not take long to realize what the Pirates had been missing.
In the first half, Seton Hall seemed to be in control of things, but a Xavier run put the Musketeers in front. The Pirates answered with an 8-0 run capped off by a Whitehead hustle play that was just spectacular. After Jaren Sina had forced a turnover he chucked the ball from nearside of half court to the far right corner. Whitehead hustled over, took the ball with his right hand and threw a behind the back, no-look pass to Sterling Gibbs who was right under the rim and laid it in. That play sparked the team and The Rock. That vision, passing and incredible natural talent were the missing pieces in this Pirates team.
Whitehead made a huge impact and many other players had great games too. However, the team was good without Whitehead, but with him they are great and tough to beat, especially at home. Many other Pirates seemed to play better because Whitehead had returned and some made immediate impacts with him back in the lineup. In the shorter amount of time that Whitehead would usually play he had a great game.
Let’s take a look at what else happened during this fun conference game.
- This was a physical game that fans of the older Big East would have loved to watch. Many hard fouls and not one, not two, but six technical fouls were dished out. All of them were of the dual technical variety, which means two players, one from each team, were given a technical on the same play. Both teams were not afraid of each other and got after one another.
- Xavier had a fantastic day shooting the ball as they finished with a 51.7 shooting percent as they shot at least 50 percent in both halves. Seton Hall shot a solid 45.9 percent from the field.
- Seton Hall put up 35 bench points, which was 35 more than they had against Marquette. Whitehead a big reason for that high number, but Xavier actually outscored The Hall by five in this category.
- The Pirates and Musketeers combined for just 18 turnovers, which shows the quality of ball handling from the guards was good on both sides.
- Xavier's 17-1 run seemly put them in the driver's seat in the first half, but Seton Hall's 8-0 run gave them the lead and momentum at the break.
- This game was not only fun, but really competitive. It had nine ties and 11 lead changes throughout, but let's be honest the Big East has at least one of those every night. Despite that, it never gets old.
- The Pirates went 25-35 from the free throw line, which is a good sign that shooting from the charity stripe continues to improve.
- Seton Hall made 9 of their 24 three point attempts while Xavier made just 1-19 (5.3 percent) from behind the arc. That was a big difference in the game.
- The Hall outrebounded Xavier 36-33, which came as a surprise to me with the big bodies that the Musketeers have in Stainbrook, Reynolds and others.
- Xavier outscored Seton Hall 44-30 in the paint, which is why until the last few moments they had a chance to win it. The Musketeers have one of the best frontcourts in the conference.
- Seton Hall had a 13-7 edge in second chance points and when that is going The Hall's way they rarely lose. Those take the life out of defense.
- For the second straight game, five Pirates finished with double figures in scoring. Anytime Seton Hall has gotten balanced scoring, they seem to be unstoppable.
- On defense, the Pirates did their dirty work and accumulated nine steals in the process. Down the stretch, the Xavier offense, which is one of the best statistically, had trouble scoring.
- Sterling Gibbs still had his moments on Saturday as he finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with eight assists and four rebounds. Gibbs only took 12 shots, but made half of them. He will get less looks now as the season goes on because of Whitehead's return, but he can still make the most of them.
- Isaiah Whitehead made his return and was huge in the 23 minutes that he played. The freshman had 19 points in addition to four rebounds, three assists, three steals and no turnovers. That, to go along with the incredible hustle plays and passes that he made, altogether was a great performance.
- Khadeen Carrington made his impact earlier in the game as he finished with just four points and five rebounds. Carrington will likely be back on the bench as the sixth man on this team, but can be a spark off the bench as we have seen a number of times this season.
- Another day, another seven rebounds for Angel Delgado in addition to his 10 points. Rebounding just comes naturally to him and it makes the Pirates so much better. He has made such a big impact on the team this season and next to Gibbs has been the most important player for the Pirates.
- Brandon Mobley had 13 points once again on Saturday and seven boards. Lately, I have liked the aggressiveness of Mobley on defense with his contests on three point shots. He had another block in the game against Xavier after three at Marquette. Mobley has been playing much better consistently of late.
- What did I tell you? Lay off of Desi Rodriguez. No one benefitted more individually from Whitehead's return than Rodriguez, his Lincoln High School teammate. They know each very well and played together so many times before. Whitehead just knew where Rodriguez was going to be on the floor and got the ball to him. Desi finished with 16 points and six boards off the bench including a nice dunk in transition off of one of his two steals in the game. From the bench, Rodriguez can be very effective for The Hall going forward.
- Jaren Sina only had six points on two three point makes in the win and many would think that he might be relegated to the bench, which would make sense. However, Sina knows the offense better than anyone and practically runs it. Expect him to keep the starting role.
- The Pirates were able to survive despite foul trouble from Whitehead, Delgado and Gibbs. Rashed Anthony and Chier Ajou came in and committed a combined eight fouls. The Hall are thin in the frontcourt so keeping Delgado on the floor is important. That is something that Delgado must improve on going forward because Ajou and Anthony really struggled to no one's surprise. Stay aggressive, but also be aware of the foul situation if you are Delgado and even Mobley.
Wrapping it all up
Seton Hall finds themselves back on track not only in the Big East standings, but also personnel wise with Whitehead in the lineup. The Pirates are just a better team with him back and we saw that on full display against Xavier. For this stretch run in the conference, The Hall will expect a lot from Whitehead, but now with players like Gibbs and Carrington playing well because they got more opportunities with Isaiah out, the Pirates are an even better team.
Coach Kevin Willard’s patience with the injury paid off and he could not have brought him back at a better time for this rematch against a team that was looking to sweep The Hall aside. Yes, many other things took place in the game that were vital to The Hall’s success, but let’s not bury the lead here. Whitehead is back and the Big East better watch out.
Against DePaul, the blue and white will seek revenge for the defeat they suffered at home against the Blue Demons. Both teams, as crazy as it may sound, have changed a lot since their first meeting back on Jan. 22 just a week and a half ago. The Pirates will be at full strength and ready to go in Rosemont on Tuesday.