NEWARK - All the talk this off-season leading up to today was about Seton Hall's freshman class. How good is Isaiah Whitehead going to be? Is this the best class in the conference? In their 63-47 season-opening win against Mercer at Prudential Center on Sunday, it was three returning leaders that propelled Seton Hall to victory.
Brandon Mobley went for a team-high 19 points and 9 rebounds while Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina combined for 26 points, 7 assists and no turnovers to anchor Seton Hall as Mercer tried to surge back from an 11-point deficit at the half.
"I thought Jaren settled us down and made some shots," said Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, who also referred to Jaren as his rock. "This is always what I envisioned Brandon could do, play at this level. Not only just shoot the basketball, but rebound, three assists, no turnovers. Sterling in the second half really did a good job of attacking when we were struggling getting some buckets and getting to the free throw line."
Most noticeably, Brandon Mobley hit big shots when Seton Hall desperately needed them and oozed senior leadership when he slowed the pace down in the second half when his team had the lead. One of Seton Hall's captains on the day, Willard said his senior forward is rapidly improving at leading the team.
"He's really turned the corner over the last two weeks with his leadership. He's starting to understand how to lead these guys, how to talk to these guys, to understand that each kid's different," said Willard of Mobley. "I think he tried to do it in the beginning of the year and he was forcing it. We had a really good talk two weeks ago about the tone of his message, sometimes tone is more important than the actual message [...] He's just gone to being Brandon, and his message is a player-to-player and its really made a big difference in my eyes."
As for the heralded freshmen, Angel Delgado came out of the gates fired up and it showed. His strong defensive play early led to a few breaks that resulted in buckets and he snared nine of his 12 rebounds with several minutes still left in the half. His second dominating performance on the glass had Willard comparing him to Dennis Rodman again.
"Angel's Dennis Rodman, he's Dennis Rodman. He keeps balls alive, the ones he doesn't get he makes every guy work. He's got an unbelievable knack, it's a skill, I don't know a coach in America that wouldn't want a guy that all he wants to do is rebound." Delgado's astute rebounding ability is already affecting frontcourt teammate Brandon Mobley. "I try to get offensive rebounds, but he takes them all," joked the senior.
Sterling Gibbs agrees.
"Angel's a beast. He makes his living off of second chance points, on the glass, all the intangibles that we need, Angel provides for us."
As for star freshman Isaiah Whitehead, the Brooklyn native had an off-day from the field after going 1-of-10 and turning the ball over four times while only scoring two points, which speaks to Seton Hall's 16-point win without his scoring. Kevin Willard has chalked this hiccup to being a freshman and said he was the happiest guy in the locker room post-game, which speaks to his character.
"I thought Isaiah played terrible," said a frank Willard after the game. "He is a big-time player who has big-time talent, but with it is also a huge learning curve for him. As he goes through the next three or four games, because he's such a smart player, he's going to understand his opportunities and the fact that he's got a little bit of a target on his back."
"He was nervous, that's all it was," said Brandon Mobley. "First college game. He kind of forced the issue, but I went and told him ‘you're one of the best players in your class in the country for a reason.' "
"Sometimes the ball doesn't go in the basket," said Gibbs of Whitehead. "We really want to encourage him, to make sure that he's in a great mindset because we're really going to need him, especially in St. Thomas."