Fighting for entry into the Big Dance in March, the Marquette Golden Eagles and Seton Hall Pirates collided in Newark on Wednesday night. 'The Rock' has played host to its fair share of grand events in the past - Stanley Cup Final games, Springsteen concerts, and Hell in a Cell 2009 which I have several personal anecdotes from. But I'll spare you from that. Today at least.
Marquette flew into The Garden State on the talons of a three-game winning streak that rebounded successfully off a three-game losing streak. With wins over St. John's, Stetson and Butler, the Golden Eagles were gaining confidence and, perhaps, with a win over Providence in Friartown in their back pocket, an opening to soar into to get into the NCAA Tournament if they were to keep their winning ways going.
Seton Hall too had matched a previous losing streak with a win streak going into Wednesday night's matchup. The Pirates picked up two wins in a row after dropping two in a row to the Villanova Wildcats and Xavier Musketeers. Seton Hall trumped St. John's and then dumped Creighton in their home venue in a game that wasn't ever particularly close. February hasn't been kind to Seton Hall in recent years as fans would tell you. The Pirates are 3-12 in the month of February since the BIG EAST regathered itself in the 2013-14 season, and those woes have been a major reason why talented clubs haven't been able to make noise in March recently.
So Marquette and Seton Hall faced off on Wednesday night in New Jersey. While the first half was littered with skittish shooting, the second half featured a much more easygoing pace, and much smoother shooting from both clubs. In the end, Seton Hall walked away with an 79-62 victory to push them to 16-6 and 6-4 in BIG EAST play.
Seton Hall power forward Angel Delgado kept up his stellar play of late Wednesday night against the tough matchup of Marquette's towering big men Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer. The sophomore from the Dominican Republic finished with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting with 13 boards to boot.
Joining sophomore Angel Delgado in double digits was fellow sophomore Isaiah Whitehead and former UMass transfer Derrick Gordon. They had 21 and 13 points respectively, with the reigning BIG EAST Player of the Week in Whitehead leading the pace. The Brooklyn native had eight assists and five rebounds to go along with that line as well.
Marquette was led by a three-headed monster of Fischer, Ellenson and Jajuan Johnson. The trio combined for 42 of Marquette's 62 points Wednesday night, with Fisch getting 17, and Johnson getting 15. Fischer finished just shy of a double double with six boards on the night.
Henry Ellenson meanwhile didn't have the best of nights shooting, going just 3-for-9 from the field. But, the freshman from Rice Lake, Wisconsin made an impact again on the boards grabbing 10 for yet another double double on the year.
Jajuan Johnson's 15 points were second best on Wednesday night for all Golden Eagle scorers. Johnson added four rebounds and two assists and picked up two steals as well.
Here's what we learned from this game:
1. Seton Hall's position is becoming more prime
The Pirates needed a big win tonight against visiting Marquette to improve their NCAA Tournament chances and, by consequence, make Marquette a little bit less threatening heading towards March. And that's what the Pirates did by extending their win streak to three games. Balanced scoring, rebounding and solid shooting in the second half powered Kevin Willard's club to victory as they look to rid themselves of their usual February woes.
2. Marquette now faces a bigger challenge against Xavier this weekend
To improve their March stock, Marquette likely needed to go 1-1 this week against Seton Hall and tournament-bound Xavier. Now that they have dropped their matchup against The Hall, a win at Xavier becomes of even greater importance. The Golden Eagles have proven already that they can go into a tough environment and pull out a victory - see their game against Providence at The Dunk last month - so they'll have some confidence heading into Cincinnati Saturday. And considering that Xavier struggled a bit with St. John's tonight, the win could be ripe for the taking if thing shake out for them. But time will tell to see what comes of it.
3. Angel Delgado's stock is rising
The sophomore power forward had another big game Wednesday night, netting 19 points and 13 rebounds against stiff competition down low. Delgado has been about the same player as he was last year when he was the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, but he has come on strong of late. This was the third game in a row and fourth in his last five played that he scored 10+ points and his third game in a row with 10+ rebounds. The Pirates will need these kinds of performances going forward from Delgado if they want to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years, and so far, he's proven that he can get it done when called upon.