By Kevin Sweeney
Desi Rodriguez had 23 points & 11 rebounds, and Seton Hall fought off a pesky Quinnipiac squad 90-79 in a consolation bracket game at the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Florida. Rodriguez was one of five Pirates to post double figures in scoring.
Quinnipiac, who was picked 10th out of 11 teams in the MAAC, was not expected to put up much of a fight in this stacked tournament field. However, for the second straight night, the Bobcats put a scare in an NCAA Tournament hopeful, hanging with Gonzaga last night before standing toe-to-toe with the Pirates tonight.
The Bobcats came out firing in the early stages, draining three 3-pointers in the first 2:24 to take a quick 11-3 lead. The guard tandem of Daniel Harris and Reggie Oliver dominated the game early, scoring 16 of the their team’s first 20 points as Quinnipiac stretched their lead to 20-10. However, the Bobcats’ lead was short lived, as Seton Hall went on a 16-2 run to open up a 26-22 lead with 8:22 to play in the half. Quinnipiac had no answer for Rodriguez, who scored 12 points and single-handedly took over the game during that stretch. However, Quinnipiac was able to stabilize things, trading punches with the Pirates for the rest of the opening half, going into the break trailing 46-39.
Seton Hall seemed to be on the verge of blowing the game open early in the second half, but Quinnipiac continued to hang tough. An 11-3 run by the Pirates extended their lead to 15 with 12:45 to play in the game. When faced with adversity, the Bobcats fought back with vengeance, immediately going on a 13-0 run to cut their deficit to just two. Freshman guard Peter Kiss gave the Bobcats a huge lift off the bench, scoring 13 of his career-high 19 points in the second half. Kiss was 4-4 from downtown and hit multiple tough shots to keep his team in the game.
A huge momentum-shifting play in the game was strange sequence with 8:41 to play in the game. After Seton Hall’s Khadeen Carrington missed a layup, Michael Nzei grabbed the offensive rebound and scored despite being fouled hard by Quinnipiac’s Phil Winston. After review, Winston was called for a flagrant 1 foul, giving Nzei two free throws. He made both, giving the Pirates a 7 point lead. Today was definitely a coming-out party for Nzei, a 6-8 sophomore forward who hadn’t scored more than 5 points in a game all season. Today, he posted 19 points and 12 rebounds, providing a huge boost for a Seton Hall team that was without forward Ishmael Sanogo due to a shoulder injury and had Angel Delgado in foul trouble all night.
“When he knows he’s going to play, he plays so much more freer and looser.” Seton Hall coach Kevin Williard said on Nzei’s impact, per SHUHoops.com. “He has to do that more often, it’s great to see.”
The 4-point possession was truly a turning point in the game. After that, Quinnipiac was never able to cut the deficit to one possession. They continued to hang around, but didn’t seem to have the energy to make one more run.
Kiss’s 19 points led the way for the Bobcats, while Harris added 18 and Chaise Daniels posted 14 points & 11 rebounds. In addition to the strong performances by Rodriguez and Nzei, Carrington had 17 points, and freshman sensation Myles Powell had 12 points off the bench.
Both teams conclude their time in Orlando on Sunday, with Quinnipiac taking on Indiana State for 7th place and Seton Hall facing Stanford for 5th.