When the Seton Hall Pirates’ head coach Kevin Willard compiled the schedule he did for his squad, he wanted to do one thing early--challenge them.
So far, he's learned a few things. There are some bigger tests on the horizon, but Thursday night's game against No. 22 Texas Tech Red Raiders proved his team’s mettle.
In the Pirates first week after being bounced from the polls, they took down the Red Raiders, 89-79, in a back-and-forth affair.
"I'm really starting to get confidence in every one of my players," said Willard, of his early-season impressions thus far. "I think the biggest thing is we still have a lot more to go. Louisville...VCU...We still have a lot left, and I think a good thing about this team is that they're gonna get a lot better defensively and offensively as we go forward."
The Pirates had previously been on the losing end of a back-and-forth, down to the wire type of finish. This time around, they triumphed and came out on top.
It wasn't until a late second half surge in which Seton Hall made five straight baskets, while clamping down on Texas Tech, that the Pirates would take the lead. They slowly built it into double figures for the first time all night, and while they didn't run away with the game--they kept the Red Raiders at bay.
Texas Tech would still manage to keep it close, until Myles Powell put them to rest. The sophomore guard scored seven straight points by himself to put the game out of reach in the closing minutes of the game.
He didn't need a magic formula or a secret to his late-game surge.
"Stay level headed and knock the shot down," he said.
Powell finished with 19 points, including a 4-of-8 performance from long range. He also had four rebounds and four assists to go along with them.
From then on, there was no doubt. An and-one with 1:13 remaining in the game made it 86-73 to cap off his scoring spree. Texas Tech wouldn't go away silently, draining a couple of last-second threes, but by then it didn't matter.
It was the only time throughout the intense game that Pirate fans no longer had to worry. Until Seton Hall pushed the lead into double figures, the largest lead for either team was seven.
Texas Tech took a 42-39 lead at the break, behind the play of senior Keenan Evans.
The Red Raider guard scored 12 of his team-high 21 points in the first half. Unfortunately for him and the rest of his teammates, they cooled off in the second half.
After knocking down 56.3 percent of their takes, the Pirates limited them to just 12-of-31 (38.7 percent) on the floor. Meanwhile, Seton Hall elevated its play.
The Pirates were 16-of-29 (55.2 percent) on the floor in the second half. Overall, they were locked in from deep, going 11-for-20 (55.0 percent) all game long.
Desi Rodriguez led the way with 24 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Khadeen Carrington added 16 points. Angel Delgado had 12 points and five rebounds.
Seton Hall improves to 6-1 and will take on No. 17 Louisville on Sunday. Tip-off is slated for 4 p.m.
Three takeaways from the game:
Senior Core was Clicking
The Pirates have rumbled their way to 6-1, and they've been able to do so even when their senior trio of Carrington, Rodriguez, and Delgado were out of sync. The Indiana game seemed to be the only one so far in which they were able to come out and dominate, as well as lead their team to victory.
Carrington had been in a bit of a slump coming in. He scored only one point against the Vanderbilt Commodores and has been far from his 2016-17 self where he led the Pirates in scoring. Delgado has been getting all the defense's attention. He's put up solid numbers so far, but not where he used to be. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has been off to a hot start and at the forefront so far.
In a game against one of the top defenses in college basketball, the trio seemed to all be chipping in. Carrington showed no signs of a slump. Rodriguez continued to tear the opposing defense apart, while Delgado did the work down low--notching a few seemingly impossible baskets in traffic and double teams, too.
Is this the start in which they turn the corner and equally dominate together? Possibly, but their effort against a tough Texas Tech team where they had to battle all-game long is promising. It also helps being in sync just in time for their road trip to Louisville.
Powell is Ready for the Big Games
Billed as a sharpshooter coming out of high school, freshman year seemed to be an adjustment period. While he averaged in double figures in a backseat role, he was shooting below 40 percent and a lackluster 33.2 percent from deep. A year of experience to his name has done wonders for him so far. Even with his struggles, his coach never was discouraged with his performance last year.
"Whenever he shoots it, it's going to go in," he said. "Any time Myles Powell shoots a basket, you can expect it to go down."
He had a number of timely shots on Thursday night, whether it was to take the lead, extend a run, or suppress the Texas Tech faithful in attendance. However, his play in the closing minutes of the game proves that he's not afraid to step up when needed. He put the game out of reach and his scoring spree helped the Pirates secure the win.
"Myles is in a great position because he's playing with four really experienced guys," Willard said. "What he brings more than anything is great energy. In the second half he played with a lot of energy and a lot of passion."
While there's a lot of deserved attention for the senior core of Pirates, Powell can get his buckets too.
Don't Sleep on Him, Even When He's Not Crushing the Box Score
His numbers took a slight dip compared to last season, but Delgado is still just as dangerous. His 12 points off 5-of-8 shooting and five rebounds seemed a bit modest for the monster double-double numbers he's known to put, but his coach actually thinks he's elevated his game.
"I think the big fella is playing much better basketball than he did last year," Willard said. "We still throw it to him, but I think he understands he has so many weapons around him that teams will eventually have to stop double teaming him, throwing five guys--the guys around him are working with him to make it easier for him."
Delgado still demonstrated that upper echelon class of post work down low, one that certainly grabbed the attention of Texas Tech double and triple teams. His passing does seem a lot more improved out of the post, and he's smart enough to know when to use the lifeline or go to work. The tough shots go in. It's a difficult conundrum for opponents to solve--let him run free and he'll go to work on them. Double team and increase the pressure on him, and he'll just defer to the other scoring talent around him.