Seeking their first road win of the season prior to an important visit to Athens, Georgia on Sunday, Seton Hall put on an offensive clinic and cruised past USF 89-69 Thursday night in Tampa.
A true team effort, five different players scored in double figures with Angel Delgado leading the way with 16 points. Isaiah Whitehead and Sterling Gibbs dominated the backcourt battle by combining for 24 points and 11 assists. Senior wing Haralds Karlis contributed off the bench by hitting 3 of 4 three-pointers while the Pirates made 11 of 20 on the night.
The fact that Orlando Antigua's squad was looking to get off to a quick start after failing to do so in their last three games appeared to play right into Seton Hall's hands. A quick, basket-happy start was founded by USF pushing the tempo and the Pirates nailing three of their first four triples before the first media timeout.
Then it was off to the races.
"When you make 11 threes and the other team doesn't make any (0-9), you're going to win every game," said Kevin Willard on 970 AM post-game.
Sterling Gibbs (14 pts, 6 asts) and Isaiah Whitehead (10 pts, 5 asts, 5 rebs) combined for 9 assists and 1 turnover in the first half and were catalysts of a Seton Hall offense that displayed pristine ball movement. Whitehead found Angel Delgado (16 pts, 6 rebs) off of a couple pick and rolls and passed over ball pressure while Gibbs was able to split defenders, his specialty. Brandon Mobley (11 pts, 5 rebs) set the tone early by hitting two three-pointers over the first three minutes of the game.
"Brandon made those first two shots then we started placing Brandon in the opposite corner then after that they couldn't really do anything [defensively]," observed Willard.
Despite the offensive efficiency, an "atrocious" Seton Hall defense allowed South Florida to be down just 12 at the half. Point guard Anthony Collins (7 pts, 10 asts) was able to find freshman forward Ruben Guerrero (13 pts) several times on the weak side block, giving him a career high 13 points at the break and the Bulls a fighting chance.
Heeding their coach's advice, Seton Hall held South Florida scoreless on five of their first six possessions after the half, sparking an 8-2 Pirate run that would be all they needed to establish a familiar mid-teens second half lead over an inferior opponent.
"I was much happier with our defense in the second half," said Willard. "For a young team, I said they're going to get some lay ups the way we're playing them because we were taking away the three. I really thought the only way they could beat us is if they make threes."
"We didn't change anything besides we decided to get a little tighter on our defense," said Willard comparing the two halves defensively. "Sometimes when you are scoring so easily, your offensive end starts subtracting [your defense], it's like a magnet. I just reminded the guys, if we want to become a good team we have to be able to beat teams that are not as good as us."
Isaiah Whitehead wasn't required to hit shots in the first half, but the freshman pulled another couple of NBA-level passes out of his hat. Aside from finding Delgado regularly throughout the game in the half court, Whitehead dished between his legs to a trailing Delgado in transition, who was fouled in the act.
Seton Hall held at least a 16-point advantage for the final ten minutes with South Florida never coming close to making it a contest. 7-foot-1 Northwestern transfer Chier Ajou was able to make his first appearance after becoming eligible when he checked in prior to the under-four timeout. Ajou would have seen time earlier in the game, but Willard was looking for the right opportunity.
"Chier will get more time," said Willard of his 7-footer. "When it's your first game, I didn't want to put him in there and not be able to have him find a rhythm. If we had played a little bit better defense in the first half, I would have put him in."
The win improves Seton Hall to 9-1 and sets the Hall up with a big meeting against Georgia on Sunday night that has NCAA implications and may make-or-break Seton Hall's non-conference.