Over the course of the past four Big East Tournaments, Seton Hall and Villanova have squared off three times.
The first two matchups were one-possession thrillers with the Pirates coming out on top.
Friday evening’s Big East Tournament semifinal was also a one-possession thriller, but the Wildcats finally solved the Seton Hall puzzle, picking up a 55-53 victory to head to their third straight Big East Tournament final.
Seton Hall played nearly flawless defense against Villanova in the first half, with Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo forcing ‘Nova to keep the ball outside and take tough perimeter shots, which didn’t fall for the Wildcats. Seton Hall’s defense held Villanova to a paltry 26.9% shooting in the first half, and it translated to a 27-20 lead for the Pirates. “We were poor in the first half.” Villanova coach Jay Wright noted after the game. “We weren’t that bad defensively, but offensively we were terrible and not playing the way we like to play. Delgado does a good job playing ball screens and they stay on the guys on the perimeter.”
The beginning of the second half saw more of the same, as Villanova would attempt to chip away at the lead only to be taken back down by a clutch Seton Hall answer. It looked as if the Pirates had once again figured out the Wildcats on the big stage.
Then, Josh Hart happened.
With 9:20 to play, Hart jumped a pass at half court and took it to the rack for a dunk. Following that sequence, he would score 10 of Villanova’s next 14 points down the stretch. With 10 seconds to go and Seton Hall leading by a point, Hart grabbed an offensive rebound on a Kris Jenkins missed three pointer and tipped it back in to put ‘Nova up one. “It bounced in the perfect stop and I was able to just get it and go up with it.” Hart would say about the play after the game. After adding a free throw to put the Wildcats up two, Seton Hall came down the court and fed the ball to Angel Delgado who missed a shot near the bucket thanks to a big stop by Eric Paschall.
After the game, Hart sought out Delgado to share a word as the two shared a court for the final time. “I have so much respect for that program. We’ve had some battles over the last four years. Got all the respect for Coach Willard” Hart said. Kevin Willard gave his perspective on the gesture as well, saying, “I have enjoyed Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart develop as young men. They represent this league at the highest level. They play the game tremendously. And I couldn't have more respect for Josh and Kris for the way they represented not only Villanova but the way they represented the Big East throughout their career.”
As the Wildcats look to win their second Big East Tournament in three seasons, Seton Hall returns to Newark as they await word from the NCAA Tournament Committee regarding their spot. A position that few could have seen the Pirates in entering February. “I've been saying it all year, when we were 3-6 [following a Feb. 1 loss to Xavier], I have a lot of confidence in this group. We'll bounce back. We'll fight back. It's who we are. It's what we've done.” Willard noted.