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Five thoughts and quotes: Defense, little plays get the job done for Seton Hall

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Angel Delgado played tough post defense against Kevin Larsen today.
Angel Delgado played tough post defense against Kevin Larsen today.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

In their toughest test yet, Seton Hall played stout defense, took charges, and muscled a 58-54 win away frp, George Washington on Saturday. Instead of a full court, high-tempo flow, the game took on a persona that was completely different than what Seton Hall had faced against their four prior opponents.

Five Thoughts:

Seton Hall has shown they can win in a low tempo game. This was nothing like Seton Hall's first four games. There were no large leads that were relinquished or crippling runs for either side and just six total fast break points for both teams. There's no surprise that such a win came against the first truly NCAA-caliber side that the Pirates have come up against in George Washington. Kevin Willard compared the game to facing Butler and a win of that type certainly adds experience that will come into play on the road and in conference play.

Defense (and free throws) won it for Seton Hall. It was fitting that Isaiah Whitehead's walk-off drawn charge literally won the game for Seton Hall. Unlike Seton Hall's first four contests, outside shots weren't falling (2-14), but free throws were, perhaps due to who was taking them (Gibbs, Mobley, and Whitehead took 16 of 24 total). Down the stretch, Willard showed an adjustment by having Angel Delgado on the bench with George Washington was looking to foul and then subbed him back in for defense when Seton Hall was at the line. In turn. this has exposed Desi Rodriguez as perhaps Seton Hall's second weakest free throw shooter, who the Colonials were sure to foul twice today in the closing minute.

Isaiah Whitehead's all-around skill set is starting to come together. After he missed a few forced shots early, Whitehead settled into the game by creating several opportunities for teammates. We've seen more of the latter than the former, but over the last two outings, Whitehead's shot is starting to show signs of falling. He hit a pair of NBA-level mid-range field goals against Illinois State and followed up with a few impressive jumpers when driving against his defender today.

Depth came up big. The box score far from indicates that Stephane Manga, Rashed Anthony and Khadeen Carrington played crucial minutes against George Washington. When Anthony and Desi Rodriguez subbed in together for Brandon Mobley and Angel Delgado when they both had three fouls mid-way through the second half, I immediately thought GW would make a run. But it was the opposite. Manga provided more size at the three on defense, Anthony played his tough role on the interior, and Rodriguez's athleticism again yielded dividends on the glass.

The Hall will receive some more recognition after beating GW. It's too early to think top-25, but George Washington was receiving four votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll and the Pirates are now 5-0 and have won a preseason tournament. With that, Seton Hall has the opportunity to take care of a weak Mount St. Mary's team on Tuesday, avoid a loss against rival Rutgers next Saturday, and set up a big-time game at Wichita State that would surely earn a ranking should Seton Hall pull off the upset.

With fans now thinking of top-25 and legitimacy, will the players? All the talk is "one opponent at a time", but it will be interesting to see if Mount St. Mary's turns into a trap game of sorts on Tuesday on the heels of an impressive win and ahead of a rivalry game.

The Quotes:

Kevin Willard

Reaction to a reporter who said his team "struggled" at the line (18-24) today: "Are you kidding me? I'm going home and having like seven bottles of wine."

On Isaiah Whitehead's development: "I put a very loose leash on Isaiah with his shot selection, his plays. He's an unbelievable player both offensively, defensively, passing, it's just a matter of getting him to understand a brand new offense. His old offense was I get the ball, go up the floor, I go one-on-one, I either shoot it or I don't [...] I think he's getting very comfortable with who he's playing with and what style he's playing in."

On intangibles that have a young team winning early on: "I think what's different now, with us, if you look at all the programs where these guys have come from, they've all come from winning programs, and when you have guys that come from winning programs, they make winning plays. And it's easier to teach winning plays. When you have guys that haven't won, it's tougher to get them to understand that taking a charge at the end of the game is more important than making a three at the end of the game."

Isaiah Whitehead

On the team progressing: "Everything has to be defense first, as long as a we play defense our offense will come. That's just our motto right now."

On the game-winning drawn charge: "He was out of control, there were limited motions he could do except run into me, so I just took it."

On what the win means: "We showed today that we can contend with any team basically."

Brandon Mobley

On Whitehead's drawn charge: "That's big-time. I told all of them when they first got here, it's the little things that win games, it's not the game-winning shot, it's the charge, the deflections, the jump balls, things like that."

What turned the momentum around in the second half: "Defense. We had to focus on defense [...] If we could just get stops and not let them set up their zone and their defense, we could be good. So we got stops, the crowd was behind us, and that was the momentum changer."

On what the bench players brought to the game in the second half: "Steph [Manga] and Rashed [Anthony], those guys played the hardest on the team. They don't complain about their minutes, they just go out there, they do whatever's asked of them."

Angel Delgado

On the ability of GW's forwards compared to prior opponents: "I think this team was a lot stronger. The big men the last game, and this game now, is the most two strong guys I play."

On Seton Hall's interior defense: "I learn everything Brandon say, he teach me everything I do. He’s like my professor."

Sterling Gibbs

What the win means: "A lot of people look at us and say we're young, we're undersized, different things. But at the same time, we don't really listen to what other people say. We just go out there and play the game the way that we know we can play."

"For us to pull this win out, it means a lot, it shows us that we can really play with anybody."

The value guys like Manga and Anthony brought: "They were big time, honestly they helped us get back into the game."

"I was itching to get in the game, but at the same time when they're doing so well I have no choice but to sit back and really cheer for them."

On his personal performance: "I guess today wasn’t  my day shooting-wise, but at the same time, as long as we got the win it didn’t really phase me."

On Isaiah Whitehead's game-winning play: "Just for him to step in there and take the charge, it shows how he's a winner. It means a lot for the team just to show how he sacrificed his body for the better of the team."