No. 19 Seton Hall puts streak on line vs. VCU

NEWARK, N.J. — Seton Hall puts its 20-game non-conference winning streak at the Prudential Center on the line when the No. 19 Pirates play Virginia Commonwealth in the first game of the Never Forget Tournament on Saturday.

No. 5 Florida and No. 17 Cincinnati square off in the second game.

Although technically not a home game for Seton Hall (7-1), be assured it will have a loyal following. The Pirates are coming off impressive wins against formerly ranked Texas Tech and Louisville.

Desi Rodriguez averaged 26.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in the marquee victories. He has had three consecutive 20-point games and is now averaging 20.0 points on the season.

“He’s become a lot more consistent with his effort, with his practice,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. “He’s worked hard, but I think most importantly, he’s become a very consistent worker. I think he’s just reaping the benefits.”

Rodriguez was named the Big East Player of the Week.

“I have 12 plays for him, and depending on what he’s doing, I can put him in an iso(lation) at the elbow, I can put him in the post, I can put him on the wing, I can put him in a pick-and-roll,” Willard said recently. “He’s not a one-dimensional player, and it’s kind of depending on who’s guarding him.

“If a bigger guy’s guarding him, then we’ll go outside. If a smaller guy’s guarding him, we’ll go inside. He’s got the skill set where I can take advantage of multiple positions on the court, and he’s starting to learn how to really make plays off that.”

Rodriguez is part of a senior trio that includes Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado. Carrington, who has switched to point guard after playing off the ball, has a team-best 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio and nine steals. Delgado is the only active Division 1 player with 1,000-plu points and 1,000-plus rebounds.

The Pirates rank 34th in the country with 13.4 offensive rebounds a game.

“I think they do a really good job of rebounding and defending the rim and creating opportunities for them on the glass,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “So we got to do a really good job of rebounding. We’ve gotten better and better at it, but we got to take it to a whole different level against these guys.”

VCU (5-4) is fresh off an emotional home loss to Texas and former coach Shaka Smart. The Rams rallied from 19 points down in the second half to take a late lead, but Texas eventually pulled out a 71-67 victory. VCU senior Justin Tillman led the Rams with 22 points and 10 rebounds

The game will be a homecoming of sorts for VCU’s Johnathan Williams. He played for St. Patrick in Elizabeth, N.J., and then at St. Benedict’s Prep, not far from the Prudential Center.

“I got a lot of people coming family-wise,” Williams said. “And a couple people I keep in contact with from high school. Coaches that’s still there. But, it’s going to be fun.”

Rams sophomores Issac Vann and Malik Crowfield (left ankle sprains) are both day-to-day. Vann was hurt in the second half of VCU’s Nov. 20 contest against Marquette. He missed three games and returned briefly against Texas before exiting in the first half. Crowfield suffered his injury Nov. 26 in practice. He did not play Nov. 28 against Appalachian State.

Justin Tillman has scored 20-plus points in three straight games for the Rams and is averaging 23.7 points and 7.3 rebounds during that stretch.