|Seton Hall's Ismael Sanogo slams one home on Thursday afternoon.|
Seton Hall opened the NCAA Tournament with a 94-83 win over North Carolina State in Wichita on Thursday afternoon.
Khadeen Carrington led the way for the Hall, as he had 26 points on 6-14 shooting, 3-5 on three-pointers, and he drained 11 free throws.
Seton Hall's balanced attack continued with big contributions off the bench from two players who battled injuries down the stretch, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo.
Rodriguez poured in 20 points off the bench on 8-14 from the field, including 2-6 on three-pointers, with three rebounds, two steals, an assist, and a block. Rodriguez missed the last few regular season games due to a leg injury he suffered in Providence on February 21, and made it back for their Big East Tournament loss to Butler on March 8.
Sanogo had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, with three rebounds on the offensive end, and he racked up a couple of steals and a block. He shot 4-6 overall, including a three-pointer.
Myles Powell had 19 points (4-9 FG, 1-7 threes, 10-12 free throws) and nine rebounds, just missing a double-double.
Angel Delgado had 13 points (4-7 FG, 5-8 FT) and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes, as he was in foul trouble throughout the game and eventually fouled out.
NC State got a big game from Allerik Freeman, who had 36 points on 12-19 from the field, including 6-8 on three-pointers, with seven rebounds and three assists.
Seton Hall Postgame Press Conference with Head Coach Kevin Willard, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carrington:
Really happy for my guys. The four seniors have put so much time, effort and work into this program, and for them to be rewarded with a hard-fought win just kind of validates everything that they've done, all the work they've put in, and just really proud of them.
Q. Khadeen, Desi, you've been here three times. It's the first time you have come out first as winners at the podium. What's this like for you?
DESI RODRIGUEZ: I'm very excited about the win. I thought we were due for a win. Coach told us before the game it's going to take all 40 minutes defensively to get a win. We're going up against a tough North Carolina State team, and I think our mindset was very focused coming into this game. And we was able to just make runs down the stretch to end the game.
KHADEEN CARRINGTON: Yeah, it means a lot. Our main focus was staying focused. I know that sounds funny, but I think the last two years that we came here -- I think last year we were focused, but our sophomore year we weren't really that focused. We came off a Big East Championship, so guys were kind of drained mentally.
Last year we couldn't get over the hump, and I think this year guys came in focused, came in real businesslike, and we're not done yet, and we're trying to keep it going.
Q. Khadeen, we talked yesterday, and you said you kind of felt responsible for last year, and those last eight minutes you had 13 of your 26. Was that on your mind at all today about how you didn't finish last year, and you obviously did today?
KHADEEN CARRINGTON: I don't think scoring was really on my mind that much. I think it was just securing the ball, and then I just took what the defense gave me and I just happened to get a couple buckets. But I think really securing the ball, that was really what was on my mind.
Q. What does it feel like for you after taking that loss so personally last year to lead your team to the first tournament win in 14 years for the program?
KHADEEN CARRINGTON: I mean, it means a lot. Like I said, I think -- like Desi said, we were due for one, and we just came in here focused, and we're trying to keep it going.
Q. Desi, what was this game like for you as far as you hadn't played a whole lot of minutes over the last month, to come in and have that kind of game, what was working for you and what was it like to do that?
DESI RODRIGUEZ: I just thank Coach a lot for trusting me and just putting me on the floor. He played me 29 minutes tonight. He didn't believe in me in the Big East tournament because he wanted me to get more rest on my ankle. And even though he gave me as much time as I can, and I didn't want to go out with a loss, you know what I'm saying. So I just worked with the doctors, got a lot of treatment while I was here, got rest.
And I told Coach before the game, Just trust me and believe in me. And that's what he did. And I just want to thank him for putting me on the floor for that amount of time.
Q. For both guys, I mean, I'm sure you've thought about this for a long time, what it would mean to win a tournament game, and it's kind of the only thing you guys really hadn't done at Seton Hall. Now that you've done it, what's that feel like?
DESI RODRIGUEZ: I mean, it feels great. I'm overwhelmed right now. Just so happy about getting this win. But our next focus is Kansas. This was a tough, hard-nosed team that we just played, NC State. Coach said if we get past the first round, anything else can happen.
So that's our mindset going into the next game. We gotta focus, watch film on a great Kansas team and hope to keep winning games, just keep knocking down teams. And that's our focus.
KHADEEN CARRINGTON: Yeah, I'm going to just piggyback on what Desi said. We just gotta stay focused. I'm sure Coach -- all the coaches are going to have a great game plan for Kansas. Just kind of rest up, watch film, and get ready for Saturday.
Q. For both you guys, when you're playing an 8-9 game, you probably have a pretty good assumption that you're going to get the No. 1 seed in the next game. Have you given thought to that? I imagine you get to see Kansas a lot because they're all over television. So what are your thoughts on playing Kansas?
DESI RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, it's funny because I watch them. I'm a fan of Kansas. But now I'm not no more, just for this game. But I watch their games a lot. Their games come on TV a lot. Just going through a variety of games, that's the best game on TV. They always give you a good game.
Other than the other scouting report my coach is going to give me, I got a great scouting report myself. I've been scouting them myself all year, watching all their games. That's a tough team. So just going in there, just --
COACH WILLARD: You're doing scouting report --
DESI RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. I've been doing scouting on Kansas. I can tell you a little bit about it. But I've been watching their game. Great team, great coach. We're just going with a focused mindset to try to get a win.
KHADEEN CARRINGTON: Yeah. I watch Kansas a lot, too. I watched them a few times this year. They got great guards. They got great bigs. So I'm sure Coach is going to have a great game plan. I'm not bringing up a scouting quote like Des. I'm just listening to the coaches.
DESI RODRIGUEZ: It's always good to watch good teams. Good teams play, you can learn. And I've been watching them, and hopefully we can get a win.
Q. For those of us who weren't there, what was the mindset after Desi hurt his ankle at Providence? Was there anger? How did you get through that? You're missing a body.
COACH WILLARD: No. You know what, I think that's the biggest difference from -- and I said it all year -- this year's team from last year's team was I really thought our freshmen were really starting to develop nice. And although not having Des, it did hurt us, I had a lot of confidence in Myles Cale that he'd be able to step up.
And if you look at what he provided us over those five or six games, I think everyone kind of seeing what an unbelievable player Myles Cale is going to be. So that late into the season, you really can't pout. You can't cry about it. You just gotta have belief in your freshman, and I have an unbelievable confidence in both Sandro and Myles Cale.
Q. Seems like a crucial juncture in the game was when Khadeen picked up his second foul. You gave Eron Gordon a long run, and he didn't make any mistakes at all.
COACH WILLARD: Eron Gordon played fantastic. He came in, and I tell you what he did better than anything, he defended and really was physical with Johnson. And I thought his defense and his physicality really did a good job of kind of getting them a little bit off their heels.
And then offensively he just kind of -- he's kind of done what he's done for us all year. He was nice and steady, got us in our offense and played really well.
Q. What does this just win mean for the program, for these kids who have, you know -- they came at a time when not a lot of people wanted to come to your school, and now this was the one thing they didn't have on their resumé. Now they got it.
COACH WILLARD: Yeah. I was watching TV with my wife last night, and I was thinking about I'm Mr. Negative and she's Ms. Positive and I was thinking what am I going to say about -- because I knew that question would come from you, especially, if we did lose, about their legacy. And these four kids and Isaiah, you know, have worked really hard.
And I think the biggest thing that if we had lost I was going to be disappointed about is I always preach to these guys: No matter what in life, if you work hard, you'll be rewarded.
And I think the biggest thing is these guys have worked really hard. They're not a lazy group. We've practiced the best we've practiced the last four days after Butler. And it's just for them to get rewarded for all their hard work, I think that was the biggest thing and the most -- that's what I'm feeling right now is that it kind of validates everything that we've done and the fact that they've worked so hard for four years.
Q. Kevin, what did you see in Khadeen? I mean, he took last year's loss really hard. He takes losses really hard. You know that. For him to finish the game the way he did and handle that pressure and make so many big shots and free throws, it just seemed like he wasn't going to let last year repeat itself.
COACH WILLARD: No. And he's gotten a lot of unfair criticism throughout the year about not being a point guard, not being this. And all I've told him is that he's been an unbelievable leader. He's been an unbelievable point guard. He has sacrificed scoring at times. He's sacrificed the fact that he's gotta guard the best offender. And I've seen over the last probably month a young man growing into the position and a young man that's going to have a very bright future at that position.
Q. Kevin, when Angel went to -- when he fouled out, Mike Nzei got up off the bench, but you decided to go with Myles Cale. What was the decision-making process on that?
COACH WILLARD: Just for the fact that we were going to need free-throw shooting. They're fouling. They're going to press. They have another ball handler. I can move Desi to the four defensively and I can move Ish to guard the pick and roll, which he's probably our best defender.
So it wasn't anything besides just having another ball handler out there.
Q. Like I asked the players, when you are playing an 8-9 game, obviously you have to focus on your game, but you in all likelihood, since it's never not happened, you're going to play that No. 1 seed. Does that accelerate your ability to prepare for that second game a little bit better?
COACH WILLARD: I have not watched Kansas one bit. It's just not what I do. I just don't think I'm smart enough to watch more than one team at a time, to be perfectly honest with you.
I know Bill, and I have unbelievable respect for his program and have watched them play. So I know how they play. But this time of year you kind of get in a bunker and you hold down. And we'll watch a lot of film with the team tonight and put our game plan together.
But you know you're going to play the 1 seed, and you know it's going to be a challenge because the 1 seed is the 1 seed for a reason, and Kansas is Kansas because they're a phenomenal program with great players.
Q. You say you watched them. Describe the difference when you're just sitting around watching a ball game and then when you're watching it as a coach preparing for a game.
COACH WILLARD: Yeah. When I watch them, I have unbelievable respect for the way they play offensively. They're unselfish. The ball pops. I respect Bill because he doesn't play the same way every year. He went small this year, because they space it out, and now all of a sudden there are a lot more pick and rolls.
Years when he's had big guys, he's gone to a high-low offense where it's really hard to guard because they go high low and they have big guys.
I think the biggest thing with Bill is he's adapted to his personnel, and he's done it really well. Because obviously I think he's won -- I don't know how many Big 12 championships. 14. I don't know. It's like I had to take off my shoes to get to where he is.
But I think that's the most thing I respect when I watch his teams, the offensive pace that they play at, but it's not the same play every single time. He really adapts to his personnel, and he gets the most out of his personnel.