Seton Hall needed a senior who would step up and show them the way to advance in the NCAA Tournament. They wanted someone that could follow him.
It would take leadership by performance for the Pirates to end a 14-year tournament win drought and their seniors to avoid the infamy of not winning a tournament game in their tenure.
Seton Hall received it from Desi Rodriguez, who scored 20 points to lead them to a 94-83 victory over the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the Midwest Region Thursday in Wichita, Kan. He gave them much-needed points when N.C. State made their run to cut Seton Hall’s lead to 32-31 in the first half, and he was active on defense.
Rodriguez did not work his way back from an ankle injury he suffered when he slipped on the wet Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Seton Hall’s game against Providence in February just to play in a tournament game. He wanted to be there for his fellow seniors to help them win a tournament game. He was determined to play even if he was going to play hurt. For him to work his way back and play well is gratifying to him, his fellow seniors and Seton Hall. The win makes it this much sweeter for him.
It was only fitting he scored the final point for Seton Hall’s 2018 first round game. He led them to a victory, so the players decided to give him the ball to score that would seal their appearance to the next round, which they will play the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday evening.
It was the type of leadership Seton Hall needed from a senior. It was the type of determination that inspired guys to follow suit. Someone had to take charge, and it was Rodriguez. It shouldn’t be surprising. He always wanted the ball when it came time to make shots. He always wanted to be the guy.
He validated his role of being the guy by scoring the last nine points of the first half to help Seton Hall take a 51-41 leading at halftime. When North Carolina State had that 15-5 run to cut their deficit to 32-31, it was Rodriguez that stepped up by hitting a 3-pointer and after Ismael Sanogo’s shot, he made a layup. He made couple more layups to give the Hall a 10-point lead at 48-38.
When N.C. State gave it another go by cutting Seton Hall’s lead to 65-61, it was Rodriguez who stepped up again by being in a position to be in the free-throw line and hit two free throws.
Rodriguez made everyone’s job easy by being the guy. That means other guys can do their thing without having the pressure of stepping up. They can focus on doing the little things such as Angel Delgado and Sanogo focus on getting rebounds rather than do too much offensively or Khadeen Carrington being the secondary scorer with no one pressuring him.
Seton Hall did not have to worry about a collapse on this day. Not when Rodriguez had all the answers to N.C. State’s run whether it was on offense or defense. On defense, he was able to defend well and not have N.C. State’s guards such as Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn get a chance to create their own shot.
Seton Hall has been searching for someone to be the guy from one of their seniors forever. They put good numbers, but when it comes to winning, they haven’t done much of it when it mattered the most. Three tournament appearances and a Big East title is something to be proud of, but winning a tournament game is the only thing that matters the most besides winning the national championship.
The seniors are proud men. They want to take the Hall to Sweet 16 or even the Elite Eight. It’s a foundation place to where they want to parlay it to a national championship. They did not want this good work to be wasted, so they played with a sense of desperation and urgency. They got it from Rodriguez and Delgado, Sanogo and Carrington followed the Seton Hall’s shooter lead.
Rodriguez came back from an ankle injury to play against Butler in the Big East Tournament last week. He scored eight points from the bench in Seton Hall’s 75-74 loss to the Butler Bulldogs. Eight may seem small to the average basketball fan, but for him, it meant something. It was him getting his rust off. It was him feeling confident that he can shoot and contribute in the tournament. Basically, that game was the foundation point to his game in the NCAA Tournament. If he did not play or do nothing, who knows if he had a game like he did against N.C. State?
He can be frustrating to watch when his shots does not come through. Rodriguez serves as an example of his coach’s belief. He focuses on shooting rather driving the ball to the hoop if he is not shooting well. He needs to be more aggressive at times. So what he did was gratifying for him. He never gave up on himself when things went tough, and he was determined to play in the tournament.
After the game, Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard mentioned that he preaches his players that good things happen to people who work hard and stay at it.
He forged his legacy at Seton Hall by giving them and his fellow seniors an elusive tournament win by taking over when his team needed him the most.
Moments like this is why he worked hard to come back from an injury and play in the tournament.