Watch scenes from the Senior Night ceremony as Seton Hall seniors Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ish Sanogo were honored prior to the Butler game.
A disappointed locker room looks at bigger fish to fry. Plus 5 takeaways from a wild game at the Garden.
NEW YORK — Angel Delgado sat in front of his locker with a look of disappointment, but not devastation. Like the rest of his Seton Hall basketball teammates, he was a stunned by Thursday night’s 75-74 loss to Butler in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.
An opportunity slipped away. But the big prize remains.
“We don’t have any more time,” the senior center said. “We’ve never won in the NCAA Tournament. That’s what we’re keeping in mind.”
The third-seeded Pirates (21-11) squandered a chance to put the dreaded 8-9 Big Dance draw in the rear view mirror. Operating with a full rotation for the first time in two weeks, they led by 14 points in the first half, by seven with six minutes remaining, and by one with 11 seconds left — thanks to a gutsy 3-point play by senior guard Khadeen Carrington (17 points, 7 assists).
But sixth-seeded Butler (20-12) sank a weak-side put-back with three ticks left and the board-mongering Delgado on the bench. Thus the Bulldogs avenged two regular-season losses to the Hall, captured their first-ever Big East Tournament victory and shipped the Pirates’ resume to the hands of the selection committee as is — sans a much-desired third crack at Villanova in Friday’s semifinal.
“We didn’t do a good job here in the Big East Tournament; now we’ve got to do a good job in the NCAAs,” senior wing Desi Rodriguez said. “I feel like we can make that run. This loss right here, it’s going to make us want it more. This is sad, but we’ll be back.”
This season always has been about the Big Dance. These seniors already have Big East Tournament rings, from 2016. There are wise basketball people who will argue, with much historical backing, that performance in this event has zero carryover to the next bracket. The Hall reinforced that two years ago, imploding against Gonzaga a few days after cutting down the Garden nets.
“Now we’ve got to do something we never did before — win an NCAA game,” senior forward Ish Sanogo said. “Can’t hang our heads. We battled; they just won it at the end. We’ve got to go back in the lab and get ready.”
Here’s the thing: If losing to Butler knocks Seton Hall into an 8-9 game, greatly diminishing the chance of making a Sweet 16 run that everyone hoped for with this group of seniors, then Thursday’s endgame will haunt the program. Carrington, acutely aware of the stakes, pointed to the Pirates’ strength of schedule, quality wins and strong performances away from home as an argument against punishing them for this final result.
“We beat a lot of good teams,” he said. “We beat Texas Tech, we beat Louisville at Louisville, so we had a lot of good games. Our seeding wasn’t too good the last two years. Hopefully there will be a little change this time.”
If the Hall holds onto a No. 7 seed and gets a decent draw, this loss won’t matter. If anything, it will be a springboard that allowed the team to get whole again with the return of Rodriguez and Sanogo from injuries.
“I’m going to look at the positive side of it, and that’s for the first time we’re going to have a chance to get some rest going into the NCAA Tournament,” Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “We’re going to take the rest. We’re going to use it and get a little sharper on some things.”
One thing they can’t control: The Selection Sunday draw. That’s out of their hands now.
1. Willard’s final decision, subbing out Delgado on the last defensive sequence, proved costly. Yes, Delgado’s pick-and-roll switches are lacking. Yes, he had an uneven night (13 points, 9 rebounds, 4-of-13 shooting) after he dominated Butler in the regular season. But the program’ best player and the conference’s all-time-leading rebounder should be on the floor for all endgame situations.
Instead Willard called on Michael Nzei to defend the pick-and-roll that everyone knew was coming for brilliant Butler guard Kamar Baldwin (32 points). Nzei altered Baldwin’s layup just enough but Tyler Wideman charged in unboxed for the dagger. As Carrington said afterward, the Pirates got caught ball-watching. Delgado does not ball-watch. He ball-eats.
“Baldwin was just having his way with the pick-and-roll,” Willard explained. “So I thought Mike did a good job of challenging it late, and Wideman did a great job of following it.”
To Delgado’s credit, he handled Willard’s move with grace when asked about it in the locker room. This is not someone who hides his emotions.
“It’s coach’s decision and I respect every decision he takes,” he said. “It is what it is. Everything happens for reason. We’ve just got to focus now on the NCAA Tournament and play our best.”
2. Over four years in the Big East Tournament, it’s been agony and ecstasy for Seton Hall’s seniors. Their final ledger: 4-3, including the 2016 title. But they exited with two excruciating last-second losses, including last year’s heartbreaker at the hands of Villanova (a missed box-out against Josh Hart proved costly in the final moments of that one).
Give Butler credit. The Bulldogs played desperate and kept coming. The Big East will put at least six teams in the field of 68, and they’re all dangerous.
3. Sanogo is now stretch four. There is no way Butler coach LaVall Jordan prepared for this defensive stopper to score 12 first-half points on 5-of-5 shooting, including two triples. His Bulldogs were doubling down on Delgado, and Sanogo fired away with confidence. Since the fall Sanogo expanded his range from two feet to 22 feet, which is highly unusual. But he took just one shot in the second half, which is puzzling. Was he hurting?
“I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I feel great.”
4. Rodriguez tired easily, which is rare. Coming back from an ankle sprain on Providence’s slippery floor, Desi was holding his shorts after eight first-half minutes. This from a guy with iron stamina. A two-week hiatus is an eternity for these guys, so it was important to get him some game action. He fit in well enough on the offensive end (8 points on 3-7 shooting, 2 turnovers in 16 minutes) but struggled defensively.
“Feels good to be back with my guys,” he said. “Wish I could have gave more.”
Some of the rust is off. Is it all off? We’ll see.
“This is the first time Desi ever has been hurt in his career, so he’s having a hard time understanding what the pain is and what he can fight through,” Willard said. “But, having three or four more days of rest, I feel good about both of them (Rodriguez and Sanogo) going into Thursday or Friday.”
5. The Big East has to be pleased with fan turnout. A lot of folks will be drawing comparisons to the Big Ten crowds, and the quarterfinals are always the tell-tale day because everyone shows up for semis and finals. Thanks to Villanova fans who turned out in droves and a solid, loud Seton Hall contingent, Thursday’s night session was a sellout for the Big East.
That won’t be lost on the folks who count the money at 33rd and 8th. Bottom line: The Big East won’t be yielding this prime week to another league anytime soon.
Staff writer Jerry Carino: firstname.lastname@example.org.