As the old adage goes, it's definitely not about how you start, it's how you finish.
The first day of the NIT Tip-Off Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn did not go as planned.
"It was a learning experience," said Seton Hall's Michael Nzei, of the Pirates’ loss to Rhode Island. "It was just a bad game. You learn from the mistakes you amde in the game. We went over film with coach and he pointed out the things we did better."
Neither did the first half of the consolation game against Vanderbilt.
However, Seton Hall's trio of Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, and Myles Powell were off to a hot start. At one point, they were singlehandedly outscoring the rest of the guys on the court combined, regardless of team.
The Pirates' scoring blitz was completely tempered by the Commodores and suddenly, they found themselves trailing Vanderbilt. However, after a strong second half surge, Seton Hall eventually pulled away and won 72-59.
"We just knew we had to bounce back, we didn't want to keep dwelling in the past," Rodriguez said. "[Rhode Island] was a bad loss for us, but we just wanted to bounce back and get the W."
Untimely turnovers, a scoring drought, and poor mistakes hindered the Pirates, but Vanderbilt didn't have its own share of problems. The Commodores closed out the first half scoreless for the last four minutes, while the Pirates couldn't capitalize.
Seton Hall trailed 32-31 at the break, but a quick series of baskets gave it the lead coming out of halftime. From there, the Pirates would eventually get it going. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt was still frozen.
Outside of a couple free throws, the Commodores could not get a single shot to fall for the first eight minutes of the second half. Finally, on their 13th shot of the half--a dunk by Ejike Obinna--would the Commodores finally break the long-lasting scoring drought, but it was far too late by then. Seton Hall had pushed its lead into double digits and wasn't stopping soon.
"When we get stops, it gets us going," Rodriguez said. "We pick it up on the defensive end, and we go from there."
Obinna's dunk served as a glimmer of hope that Vanderbilt would break the drought, but it would quickly find itself in shooting despair, as it went on another scoreless drought. Seton Hall would only continue to build on its lead.
Vanderbilt was 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) on the floor in the second half.
"The biggest thing is that we didn't make shots," Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew said of his team’s second half meltdown. "0-for-12 from three...we never recovered."
As for Seton Hall, while the Pirates would slow down, it never felt like Rodriguez's play dipped. The Bronx-native was dialed in all game long. Rodriguez finished with 27 points off of 12-of-21 shooting, and added five rebounds to go along with his high-scoring performance.
"The way coach puts me in his offense, he trusts me with the ball a lot," Rodriguez said. "I'm very aggressive inside. Whenever he calls a post up play for me, I'm aggressive with that. When I'm on the outside, I play smart...I'm happy he trusts me with the ball in my hands."
Delgado added 15 points and nine rebounds. Powell chipped in 11 points.
For Vanderbilt, the Commodores were paced by the play of Jeff Roberson. The senior forward had a double-double, scoring 20 points and collecting 13 rebounds.
Seton Hall improves to 5-1. The Pirates resume action on Nov. 30, when they take on Texas Tech in the Under Armour Reunion at Madison Square Garden. Tip-off is slated for 6:30 p.m.
After that, it'll be a trip down to Louisville.
"These games are going to help us for January and February," said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard. "The goal was to challenge ourselves early."
Three takeaways from the game:
Hot and Cold
Rodriguez and the Pirates got back on track after a tough loss against Rhode Island in the opening round of the NIT Tip-Off Tournament. He finished three points shy of tying his career-high 30 points, set back in January against Marquette. Despite that, his performance couldn't have come at a better time. It wasn't the best game for the Pirates and his teammates weren't really able to get in a groove until they were clearly up. Since scoring just nine points in a game against Monmouth, Rodriguez has scored in double figures in every game since then. He's averaging a team-high 16.0 points per game and shouldered most of the load against the Commodores.
While he's playing very well, last year's leading scorer is not. Khadeen Carrington had just a one-point performance against the Commodores. It's been an up-and-down start for the senior point guard. Through six games, he's averaging just 12.0 points--way lower than his 17.1 points per game performance. Over the last three games, the basket hasn't been kind. He's shooting a combined 9-of-27. Despite this, his coach is not worried.
"The fact Khadeen Carrington can score one point and we win by double digits shows our depth," Willard said. "I thought he played like a complete point guard. He picked it up on defense and was a dog...He's going to get it. He's going through the exact same thing Isaiah [Whitehead] went through his sophomore year. The same position, just a tougher schedule."
Vanderbilt is still looking for that spark to get its season going. It's been a rough one so far for the Commodores, who have now lost four of their last six games--including the three-game losing streak they are on. The Commodores almost had a key win against USC, but lost the game by three in overtime. That was the beginning. Now, they leave Brooklyn winless at the NIT Tip-Off Tournament, with both games having a double-digit margin. The USC loss wasn't the launching point, it seemed that it would be and now with a poor shooting performance, it appears that Vanderbilt still has ways to go.
Drew switched up the lineup going into the Seton Hall game. Against Virginia, he started Roberson, Obinna, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance, and Saben Lee. Against the Pirates, he wanted to go with a more defensive-oriented lineup, switching in Joe Toye, former Xavier player Larry Austin, Maxwell Evans, and Clevon Brown--80 percent of the starting lineup. While it was defense or Seton Hall just straight up making mistakes, clearly the lineup struggled offensively. All in all, Vanderbilt is still figuring things out.
Free Throw Woes
Carrington and Rodriguez seemed to have improved their shooting ability at the free throw line. They--along with Delgado--accounted for a bulk of Seton Hall's trips to the line. Despite being top scorers, they were not the greatest at the line. Overall, as a team, Seton Hall converted just 64.3 percent of its foul shots--335th in the nation.
This year, things are slightly better for two of the three, but still not ideal. Rodriguez came in shooting 14-of-17 from the free throw line, but a 2-of-6 performance against Vanderbilt dampens things. Carrington is now 8-of-11 from the charity stripe on the season.
As a team, the Pirates--in this young season--have regressed. Their team free throw shooting percentage has now dipped to 63.0 percent. It will be something to look at moving forward, since the charity stripe won't exactly be free.