NEWARK, N.J. — Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard likes where his 23rd-ranked Pirates are entering Big East play.
“I think we’re excited about being 11-2,” Willard said Saturday after a 74-62 victory over Manhattan. “I think we’ve put ourselves in good position heading into the Big East.”
But Willard has a lot on his plate, namely the suspension of senior forward Ismael Sanogo before the game, the loss of sophomore guard Myles Powell to an ejection during the game and the near-loss of freshman guard Jordan Walker, who left the program and returned last Tuesday.
“I’m not a happy camper,” Willard said. “It’s been a tough week. You put time and effort into kids and you hope that you’re guiding them the right way. When it goes off the rail a little bit, it’s like a stab in the heart. I’m disappointed and sad. I’m not going to have a merry Christmas.”
Sanogo was suspended for something “off the court, not basketball-wise,” Willard said.
“I’m in no rush to bring him back,” Willard said. “You have to act in a certain way at this university. When you don’t, then it’s a big issue with me.”
Willard said that he had no real problem with Powell’s ejection. He left with 40 seconds remaining in the first half, along with Manhattan’s Rich Williams, after an altercation under the Manhattan basket, after scoring 13 points in the first half.
“Both teams were playing hard and aggressive,” Willard said. “Sometimes we have situations like this.”
Angel Delgado scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to lead the way for the Pirates. It was the ninth time this season and the 59th time in his career that Delgado reached double figures in both points and rebounds.
“We just came here and took care of business,” Delgado said. “The Big East are real games now. We have to play hard and be aggressive and get ready for Creighton (the Pirates’ next opponent Dec. 28).”
“I think Angel has been as consistent as any big man in the country,” Willard said. “He loves the physicality from other teams. He would much rather play against a team that is going to whack him because he gets to whack him back.”
Khadeen Carrington added 15 points and Desi Rodriguez scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had five assists, as the Pirates had all five starters score in double figures. Michael Nzei had 10 points and five rebounds for the winners.
The victory was the seventh in eight games for the Pirates (11-2).
The Jaspers (5-7) were led by Zane Waterman who had 18 points and Calvin Crawford who had 10.
Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, who served as an assistant at Louisville with Willard for three seasons, gave his team credit for playing tough against the bigger Pirates.
“The first half was bit of a disappointment,” Masiello said. “But we battled hard in the second half. We need to clean up some things now that it’s down to conference play. But I’m very proud of the way we competed today.”
The Pirates put the game away with a 13-0 run in the first half, keyed by five straight points from Powell on a 3-pointer and a steal and thunderous slam and capped by Powell’s layup off a drive, giving the Pirates a 36-20 lead.
Rodriguez and Powell paced the Pirates with 13 points each at the half, with the Pirates holding a 49-27 lead.
Delgado scored on a dunk and a free throw that pushed the lead to 54-31 with 17:40 left.
Patrick Strzala hit two straight 3-pointers to bring the Jaspers within 74-56 with 2:52 remaining.
The Jaspers then scored four straight points with the Seton Hall starters on the bench to slice the lead to 74-60 with 2 minutes remaining.
The Pirates are the only Division I team to have three players who have scored 1,000 or more points during their career in Carrington, Delgado and Rodriguez.
Willard and Masiello were assistant coaches on Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville from 2005 through 2007. “I learned so much about scouting and how to prepare for games from Kevin Willard,” Masiello said. Willard said that he might face Manhattan in the future because of his good relationship with Masiello. “We’ve talked about it for a couple of years,” Willard said. “We might have a long-term series and we might go there (to the Bronx) to face them. I respect him and how they play. It’s all about what makes this area good for college basketball.”
STRANGE SERIES LEAD
Although Saturday marked the first time the schools faced each other since 2005, Manhattan leads the all-time series 27-21. But the teams have faced each other only three times since 1985.
WELCOME BACK JORDAN
Walker, who apparently left the team for two days over his lack of playing time, then was talked back into returning by Seton Hall officials, returned to action with 13:30 in the first half and received a warm welcome from the Seton Hall faithful in attendance. Walker responded with a wide smile. Walker had two points and two assists in 16 minutes Saturday.
ALTERCATION AND EJECTIONS
With just 40 seconds left in the first half, Seton Hall’s Delgado and Manhattan’s Waterman locked arms in a wrestling match under the Manhattan basket going for a rebound. The altercation got heated and eventually Powell and Williams were ejected from the game. But according to Big East assistant commissioner John Paquette, Powell will not be suspended for the Pirates’ next game, the Big East opener against Creighton on Thursday.
The 59 double-doubles by Delgado is the top figure in the nation. Delgado is the only active Division I player with more than 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
THE BIG PICTURE
Seton Hall: The Pirates have won 23 straight games against non-conference opponents and 28 straight non-conference wins at the Prudential Center.
Manhattan: Waterman became the 38th player in Manhattan history to reach the 1,000-point plateau with a basket Wednesday night in a win over Hofstra.
The Pirates break for the holidays and return Thursday, Dec. 28 to face No. 25 Creighton in the Big East regular season opener.
The Jaspers are off until next Saturday when they host Fairfield in the MAAC regular season opener.