Seton Hall’s leading scorer was benched after the first five minutes. The entire team didn’t seem ready for what could have been a statement victory. There was very little to like about Wednesday’s 80-63 setback at Creighton for the No. 19 Pirates, making Saturday afternoon’s meeting with No. 11 Xavier at the sold-out Prudential Center that much more important.
The Pirates (15-4, 4-2 Big East), and most notably benched senior wing Desi Rodriguez, need to find a way to straighten themselves out immediately if this season is going to live up to the hype.
“I don’t think we’ve played overly consistent basketball over the last couple of weeks,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said in a phone interview. “We just got to get a little bit better mindset going into games.”
Willard said he wasn’t pushing the panic button — “We’re 4-2 [in the league], we lost two road games.” — but that previous statement about his senior-leaden team’s mindset is concerning. They haven’t played well in the past three games. They were routed by Creighton and Marquette on the road, and put together an uneven performance in a home win over eighth-place Georgetown in between. Then there is the temperamental Rodriguez, the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points per game.
Rodriguez was shaky from the outset against Creighton, beaten on the defensive end and committing a pair of turnovers, and Willard pulled him 5:44 into the game. He was never reinserted back into the lineup, sitting at the end of the bench the rest of the contest while supporting his teammates.
Afterward, Willard said on 970 AM: “He had that look on his face where he just didn’t want to be out there. When he gets that way, you just kind of let him regroup and refocus, and it just never happened.”
Rodriguez responded by tweeting: “Haha really funny, why wouldn’t I want to be out there battling with my guys. I love these dudes they are my brothers, we will be just fine trust me.”
Rodriguez has shown this side before. The Bronx native was benched for the entire second half against DePaul two years ago for mouthing off to Willard. In the past, he has been prone to losing focus, and after a fast start, his play has dipped. Sources said the team fully supported the decision.
“I look at it as a bump in the road and we move forward,” said Willard, who plans to play Rodriguez on Saturday against Xavier. “He’s always bounced back good from when he’s had a tough night, and I expect him to bounce back again.”
Starting fast will be important for Rodriguez and Seton Hall. It has faced first-half deficits of 22-6, 12-3, and 28-17 in its past three games. Clearly, that’s not a recipe for success.
Hoping to improve the way his team begins, Willard said he is leaning towards starting defensive-minded forward Ismael Sanogo, who has come off the bench since being suspended for a game for violating team and school rules in late December.
“He gives us a little bit better energy starting off games,” Willard said.