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Late heroics keeps Seton Hall’s tourney hopes alive

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Winning was the only thing on Isaiah Whitehead’s mind on Sunday — because Seton Hall had more important things than one game on the line.

The Pirates team was down three to last-place St. John’s with National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament berth on the line at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 21, so the former Abraham Lincoln guard put a dismal shooting night — and the Hall’s blown 19-point lead — behind him and helped his team rally to a 62–61 victory over the Red Storm. In the space of 58 seconds, Whitehead made three of four free throws, including two after stealing a rebound away from St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe during a scramble in the paint. He just saw the ball and went after it.

“It was just about the will to win and just really attacking the ball,” Whitehead said.

Thanks to his late-game heroics, the Pirates team (19–7, 9–5) is third in its conference — and remains in full control of its postseason destiny. Whitehead isn’t letting the close call take away from the win.

“It’s a huge win — if we lost, it would have damaged our resume,” Whitehead said. “I’m proud of us being down with seconds left and coming out and winning the game.”

Whitehead, who is averaging 16.6 points per game, had a rough shooting night and sunk one of 12 from the field. He had 10 points, including eight from the free-throw line, on Feb. 21.

But the sophomore heated up in the end — Whitehead went five of seven at the free throw line and made three of his six steals in the final three minutes.

Former Bishop Loughlin star Khadeen Carrington added 12 points, including a huge jumper with 42 seconds left to cut the St. John’s lead to one point. Willard has a lot of trust in the duo.

“I always have the feeling that I just have to let them play and make plays,” he said. “I thought they did a great job, even though they weren’t having a great night.”

Carrington and Whitehead took care of business late in the game, but they were reclaiming lost ground after the Pirates gave up a 19-point lead that former Lincoln standout Desi Rodriguez helped build in the first half, when the sophomore scored 19 of his career-high 24 points — including four three-pointers.

“I felt great,” Rodriguez said. “My teammates set me up great. I was able to knock down shots.”

Rodriguez is no stranger to big games at Madison Square Garden. As a high-school junior, he was the most valuable player in Lincoln’s city championship victory over Jefferson with 16 points and 17 rebounds.

The Garden seems to motivate the best in Rodriguez, Whitehead said.

“I wish we could play our home games here, that way he is playing [here],” he joked.

Rodriguez got the team off to a hot start, but he credited Whitehead with finishing what he began.

“That shows how much he is growing,” Rodriguez said. “Last year he would have gave up.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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