DENVER (AP) Isaiah Whitehead’s scoring spree couldn’t have ended at a worse time.
The Seton Hall sophomore, who scored 70 points in three games to lift the Pirates to the Big East title, couldn’t find the basket Thursday night in a 68-52 loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.
Whitehead’s line in this one: 4 for 24 from the field; 0 for 10 from 3-point range; 10 points.
”You have bad nights,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. ”He had probably three of the best games that anyone’s had in the Big East Tournament in a long time.”
Those three games were magic. They included wins over Villanova and Xavier, two teams ranked in the top 5 at the time. They gave the Pirates (25-9) their first conference tournament title since 1993.
The reward wasn’t so great: a trip out West to face Gonzaga, a program making its 18th straight trip to March Madness, and not showing any signs of slowing down.
Seton Hall had no answers for Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis. He finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds.
”A great player,” Whitehead called Sabonis. ”He finishes around the basket. He rebounds with the best of them. You just have to take your hat off to him. He had a terrific game.”
The Pirates fell behind by double digits at halftime, chipped away briefly, but never made a real run.
Whitehead, Mr. Basketball in New York in 2014, never got going.
Willard said he gave no thought to running the offense through someone else.
”You think you’re going to get him to defer?” Willard said. ”I mean, he’s been our guy all year. You can’t take the reins off it because, again, I have so much confidence, I thought the next one was going to go in.”
Because it didn’t, Seton Hall has to settle for a very good season, but not a great one.
This was the first trip to the tournament, and the first trip to the top half of the Big East, for Seton Hall in Willard’s six years at the school.
If Whitehead comes back for next season, there could be more. This is a team full of freshmen and sophomores, with only one senior.
”There’s not a lot of sophomores that actually do that – win the Big East championship in one season,” Whitehead said. ”We had a great year. I can’t really speak to how happy I am with the year we had.”
Gonzaga: Kyle Wiltjer had 13 points for the Zags and guard Josh Perkins finished with seven points, seven assists and three steals. … Sabonis also had four assists and a steal.
Seton Hall: Derrick Gordon became the first player to play in the tournament for three different programs. Western Kentucky and UMass were the others. Gordon finished with 10 points. … Forward Ismael Sanogo suffered a dislocated right shoulder with 4:22 left. He went to the locker room and didn’t return, but Willard said he should be fine.