Milwaukee, WI – Seton Hall forward Desi Rodriguez has played in the shadow of his more famous teammate, Isaiah Whitehead, first at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and now for a second season with the Pirates.
But Rodriguez took a back seat neither to Whitehead nor any of his Pirates’ teammates as Seton Hall rallied from a one-point halftime deficit to post an impressive 83-63 road victory Wednesday night over the Marquette Golden Eagles in the first Big East conference game for both schools.
At 6-6 and 215 solidly built pounds, Rodriguez knocked down a free throw to complete a three point play to stake Seton Hall to a 17-6 lead five minutes into the game.
Rodriguez aggressively attacked the rim to both score in the paint and draw fouls. The sophomore converted 9-of-10 opportunities at the free throw line in scoring a team-leading and career high 19 points.
Rodriguez often bullied Marquette defenders and was the toughest player on a Seton Hall team full of tough players. That his team finished second in the toughness contest did not escape the attention of Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski.
“Seton Hall played a great game was tougher than us,” said Wojciechowski. “Every game is a crossroads and a battle. We have to grow up. This is a man’s league and you win in the Big East by playing like men. I thought we didn’t show toughness today.”
Speaking to the topic of toughness, Seton Hall dominated the backboards from the opening tip and finished the night with a resounding 49-33 advantage. The Pirates were led by league-leading rebounder Angel Delgado and his 11 rebounds.
Whitehead, a former McDonald’s All-American, helped the Pirates off to their fast start by knocking down two shots he took from behind the three-point arc in the first nine minutes of the game. Both made threes were off catches in the wing area, the first from the left side of the court and the second from the right. But saddled with two early fouls, Whiteside played only 11 minutes in the first half.
After falling behind early, Marquette staged a first half rally behind a member of its highly touted freshman class. But unlike most games when 6-11 freshman Henry Ellenson leads the charge, on Wednesday night it was fellow freshman Haanif Cheatham, a 6-5 combination guard, who spearheaded a Marquette rally that took the Golden Eagles into halftime with a 40-39 lead.
Cheatham was especially efficient in the open court and on drives to the basket knifing through the Seton defense to repeatedly score at the rim. His 15 first half points were seven more than his closest scoring Marquette teammate.
Explaining his team’s approach coming out of halftime, Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard said, “We wanted to stop Cheatham; he was killing us. We wanted to make them work to shoot over us.”
Consider the mission accomplished. It took an Ellenson three-point shot with 3:12 left in the game for Marquette, entering the game as the conference’s fourth best shooting team from behind the arc, to register its first, and only, made shot from distance in 11 tries on the night.
“Not that we’re a great shooting team, but it’s hard to win in the Big East shooting nine percent from behind the three-point line,” said Wojciechowski, who had that nine percent figure ingrained in his mind and was not reading it from the stat sheet as he commented to the media.
“I didn’t have to talk about effort at halftime,” said Willard. “We just wanted to clean up what were doing.” The Pirates did an exceptionally strong job containing Marquette’s one-two offensive punch of Ellenson and center Luke Fischer.
Entering the game second in the Big East in both scoring at 16.8 and rebounding at 9.8, Ellenson did his usual work on the backboards using his size and length to bring down 14 rebounds. But with Chicago Bulls General Manager Gar Foreman among 11 NBA scouts in attendance to mostly taking a look at Ellenson, Seton Hall frustrated the former McDonald’s All-American into a 3-for-14 shooting night as he finished with 13 points.
Willard assigned sophomore Ismael Sanogo the primary task of defending Ellenson. Despite giving up three inches and 35 pounds to Ellenson, Sanogo got the better of the dual. “It’s a match-up (Ellenson vs Sanogo) that worried me a little bit,” said Willard. “I think Ish did a good job of making him work early. I don’t think he has seen the kind of athleticism of Ish in quite a while.”
Fischer got off to a strong start for Marquette scoring four early points on back-to-the basket moves. Coming into the game as the Big East’s fourth most accurate shooter at 63 percent, Fisher made 6-of-11 shots on the night and fell one rebound short of a double-double.
But as they did in slowing down Cheatham in the second half, the Pirates made life uncomfortable for Fischer in limiting the 6-11 junior to four second-half points on two of six shooting. Willard assigned the task of guarding Fischer to the 6-9 Delgado. A sophomore from the Dominican Republic, Delgado kept Fisher from his pillow spots and walled him up when Fischer was able to get a piece of the paint on a back down move.
Like it did in the first half, Marquette went early to Fischer twice in the second half, but with less favorable results. Posting up on the right low block, Fischer dribbled into the paint to shoot a jump hook shot with his left hand, a favorite move of his. But Delgado bodied Fischer away from the basket and Fischer struggled to get off his shot through the contact to leave both shots short off the front rim.
Averaging over five free throw attempts per game, Fischer did not make one trip to the line on the night, a fact that did not escape the attention of Wojciechowski. “I can’t remember a game that Luke did not go to the free throw line,” said the Marquette coach. “We have to do a better job of getting him to the foul line.”
In only scoring 23 points in the second half and getting outscored by 21 points over the last 20 minutes of the game, Wojciechowski cited his team’s effort level and youth in explaining its second half collapse. “We didn’t have the same energy in the second half that we did in the first,” he said. “I think our offense affected our defense and that’s a sign of immaturity. I thought we played young tonight.”
Marquette sophomore guard Duane Wilson came off the bench to give Marquette a lift with 13 points. Like his coach, he cited the urgency of the Pirates’ play and said, “Seton Hall played tougher and wanted it more than we did.”
Entering the contest with a conference best 18.8 assists per game average, Marquette was held to only ten assists by Seton Hall. “A lot of our shots were one pass and drive instead of moving the ball four or five times,” said Wilson.
The game marked the end of a nine-game Marquette winning streak and extended a Seton Hall winning streak to six games. Marquette takes to the road for its next game at Georgetown on January 2 while Seton Hall heads back to South Orange, New Jersey for its conference home opener against DePaul on the same day.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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