NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Seton Hall not only wrote an apparent ticket to the NCAA Tournament, it now has to be considered a legitimate threat to win the Big East Conference postseason get-together.
Desi Rodriguez had career-highs of 27 points and 12 rebounds and Seton Hall all but clinched its first NCAA Tournament berth in a decade with a stunning 90-81 victory over No. 5 Xavier on Sunday.
"We still have to be selected," said sophomore point guard Isaiah Whitehead, who added 22 points for the Pirates (21-7, 11-5). "We still have two more games to go but today was a huge, huge win."
What was remarkable was that Seton Hall dominated in knocking off Xavier (25-4, 13-4), just four days after it upset No. 1 Villanova. It won the battle inside with Angel Delgado adding 17 points and eight rebounds and it used a suffocating defense that made the Musketeers struggle to score until the game was out of reach.
"My motto is once we win they can't keep us out," Pirates guard Khadeen Carrington said. "I think 11 wins in the Big East should do it. We got two more we're going to try to get, but we knew the opportunity we had coming in today and we just played desperately."
The Pirates, who have not been in the NCAA Tournament since 2006, had a season-high point total and shot 50 percent from the field in winning their fourth straight and eighth of nine.
"All I know is I am going to enjoy this win," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said in refusing to talk about the NCAA Tournament. "I'm going to let my players enjoy it tonight and then I have to figure out Butler."
Seton Hall never trailed after scoring the first nine points and it beat Xavier in every aspect.
James Farr and Trevon Bluiett had 17 points apiece for Xavier, which was coming off a 90-83 win over Villanova.
The win was Seton Hall's first over a Top 10 team since beating No. 6 Villanova on Jan. 3, 2015. It was its first win over the Top 5 team since beating No. 3 Villanova in the Big East Tournament on March 13, 2014, and its first at home over a Top 5 team since beating No. 4 Pittsburgh on Feb. 9, 2004.
Seton Hall came out with something to prove after beating Providence on Thursday to nail down its first 20-win season since 2012.
Rodriguez drove the lane for the opening basket and Delgado sandwiched a layup and a three-point play around a basket by Whitehead for a 9-0 lead.
Xavier had to play catch up the rest of the game and they never really had a chance.
"Seton Hall's a very good team," Farr said. "They got off to a great start. We didn't play tough in the first half. It was very visible, what happened."
The key for the Pirates was their defense which collapsed inside to prevent any easy baskets and to win the battle of the boards.
The Musketeers got within 22-19 on a basket by Bluiett with roughly 9 minutes to go, but Seton Hall closed the half with a 23-7 run to take a 45-26 lead.
"That margin from 8 minutes to 4 minutes, you can't do that on the road against a really, really good team, a tournament team in my opinion," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "You can't do that and feel like you are going to have the ability to come back unless they start sleep-walking in the second half, which they didn't."
The Pirates were never threatened in the second half with Xavier using a late spurt to make the score close.
Xavier: The Musketeers came into the game No. 13 nationally with a plus-8.2 rebounding margin. It had been outrebounded only twice in 28 games. The Hall became the third with a 44-39 advantage.
Seton Hall: The Pirates got big games from unexpected players. Derrick Gordon, starting on senior day, had eight points, six rebounds and two assists, while Ismael Sanogo had five points, nine rebounds and two assists.