They’re off to one Hall of a start.
Coaches picked the Seaton Hall’s men’s basketball team to finish seventh this year, but the 12–2 squad — led by Brooklyn ballers Isaiah Whitehead and Desi Rodriguez (Lincoln) and Khadeen Carrington (Bishop Loughlin) is playing like the best team in the tri-state area. The Pirates are 2–0 in the Big East and won seven straight heading into a match-up with defending conference champion Villanova on Dec. 6.
The maturity and improvement Seton Hall’s all-sophomore starting lineup has shown makes the team a threat for the Big East title.
And it made that evident when it beat Wichita State on Dec. 19, overcoming a 13-point deficit at the half — thanks in large part to an 18-point second half from Rodriguez.
“In the past, we’ve been knocked down and we’ve run for the hills. [Wichita State] came out and knocks us down, and for the first time, what I saw was guys taking steps towards the fight,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard told reporters after the game. “That’s as important as anything.”
Rodriguez’s improvement is a big reason for his team’s success. He went from averaging 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a freshman to 12.4 and 4.4 respectively this season. Rodriguez made just one three-pointer all of last year, but he has 16 already this season. Rodriguez’s confidence is key.
“At halftime, I just said ‘Go do what you do really well — go run down the floor and dunk on somebody,’ ” Willard said he told Rodriguez in the latest match-up. “He got a layup, and that got him going.”
Whitehead is also beginning to hit his stride after injuries set him back as a freshman. Over the summer, the former McDonald’s All-American worked with former Lincoln great Lance Stephenson and Stephen Curry, the regaining National Basketball Association’s most-valuable player.
The experience — and having another year under his belt in general — are making him more comfortable in his point guard role. He is averaging 15.1 points a contest, has 65 assists to 41 turnovers, and has made 16 blocks. Whitehead had 78 assists in 22 games last season. The Coney Island native scored or assisted on 10 of Seton Hall’s 14 field goals in the second half against DePaul on Jan. 2.
“He’s playing great and operating at a really high level right now,” Willard said. “He’s letting the game come to him, taking good shots, and being aggressive when he needs to be.”
Carrington leads the team in steals (24) and is its second-highest scorer at 13.9 points a game.
The Hall got off to a fast start last year but lost 12 of its 15 games to finish with a thud. But this group is better prepared to deal with the season’s ups and downs, Whitehead and Carrington said in the preseason.
The team’s performance in 2015–16 is a good reason to believe they’re right.