LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Desi Rodriguez scored most every time he had the ball against No. 17 Louisville, so it wasn’t shocking for the Seton Hall senior guard to convert a final opportunity with the game on the line.
Other than the degree of difficulty in firing a winning shot over Cardinals 7-footer Anas Mahmoud, that is.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Rodriguez said after his off-balance banker with 8 seconds remaining gave Seton Hall a hard-fought 79-77 victory “I knew I had to make a strong move, and I was just happy and excited that I finished strong.”
Rodriguez had a season-high 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting with two 3-pointers. His basket was the last of seven consecutive for the Pirates (7-1), who overcame a 59-52 deficit with 11:33 left to cap a thrilling finish featuring three ties and four lead changes in the final 5:21.
That set the stage for the final possession where Rodriguez delivered in the reunion of former Big East Conference rivals.
After Deng Adel’s leaner tied it at 77 with 29 seconds left, the Pirates ran the clock down before Rodriguez got the ball and dribbled left. He fired a hard shot off the glass for the lead, though the Cardinals (4-2) had one final chance.
Quentin Snider’s 3-point attempt for the winner missed with 4 seconds left, Rodriguez grabbed his eighth rebound and the Pirates happily celebrated their second straight win over a ranked opponent.
“Last week against Rhode Island (a 75-74 loss), I didn’t put it in his (Rodriguez’s) hands,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, a former Louisville assistant under Rick Pitino from 2001-07. “I made sure the rest of the year it would get in his hands at the end of the game.”
Seton Hall’s victory adds to an impressive start featuring victories over Power Five conference schools such as Indiana (Big Ten), Vanderbilt (Southeastern) and No. 22 Texas Tech (Big 12) on Thursday.
Khadeen Carrington had 18 points, Myles Powell had 13 including a key 3-pointer with 1:40 left and Angel Delgado had 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Pirates.
Adel had 20 points and Snider 15 for Louisville, which committed 16 turnovers and lost its second straight.
“We’ve just got to take better care of the basketball,” Cardinals interim coach David Padgett said. “Sixteen turnovers is too many for us. … We’ve got to turn this around.”
Seton Hall: The Pirates won by showing poise down the stretch. Timely plays on both ends helped and Rodriguez didn’t have to do it himself as teammates contributed. The Pirates finished nearly even with Louisville on the boards (36-35), shot 46 percent and most importantly, outscored the taller Cardinals 40-26 inside.
“That’s our DNA,” Willard added. “We’re going to scrap, we’re going to fight. … They’re not physically imposing, but they’re long. We weren’t going to change the fact that we’re going to attack the rim.”
Louisville: The Cardinals overcame a slow start and seemed to be in gear behind a 20-7 run for a 59-52 lead before faltering. Lazy passes led to turnovers and easy Seton Hall baskets, and they had no answer defensively for Rodriguez. Their bench outscored Seton Hall 26-3 but looked out of sync and rushed at critical moments.
“We were rusty with the ball,” Adel said. “We were moving too fast. I turned the ball over way too many times. Our advantage was pick and rolls, and guys were getting open in the lane. The second half we did good job, but our turnovers killed us.”
Willard coached Louisville counterpart Padgett for a couple of seasons and said he talked with the former Cardinals player after he was promoted to the interim job following Pitino’s October firing in the wake of the school’s acknowledgment that it was being investigated in a federal bribery probe of college basketball.
The Seton Hall coach believes Padgett is the right man for a difficult situation.
“I think David has done a phenomenal job and will continue to do a phenomenal job with this program,” Willard said. “For what the city has gone through, what the university has gone through and most importantly what the players have gone through, David’s the right guy.”
Seton Hall hosts Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday.
Louisville hosts Siena on Wednesday in preparation for its meeting against neighboring Indiana on Saturday.