Let’s start with the three skyscraper sized zebras in the room.
They made an impact on the game. Plain and simple. A big one.
Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski came to the podium first following Seton Hall’s 81-79 win at Madison Square Garden to send the Pirates to the Big East title game on Saturday. Here were his thoughts on the game.
“I’ve never had anything like that happen in a basketball game before. It’s unexplainable,” Wojciechowski said. “Unexplainable.”
We need to dive into the controversy before we get to heroes in this one to tell the full story. There was a lot of trash talking going on during the game. Most of it directed at Seton Hall’s Myles Powell likely to try and get under his skin and to a certain extent it worked.
Marquette’s Sacar Anim frustered Powell and seemed to lead him to picking up a flagrant one foul in the first half. Anim would pick up a technical foul on the same exchange. The officials had an opportunity to pull the teams aside and lay down some ground rules. They didn’t.
Things would escalate from there.
Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard got a questionable technical foul for a traveling gesture to the referees and Mamukelashvili received a technical to talking to the Golden Eagles players.
Later in the second half, things boiled over big time.
With 12:48 left in the game, Anim fouled Powell hard on a drive to the basket. Powell reacted and came right back at Anim. A scrum would start to develop under the basket with players pushing, shoving and plenty of guys trying to get at each other.
Once the dust cleared and we had an extremely lengthy review of the play, Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili, Marquette’s Theo John and Anim were all ejected for roles in the scuffle.
Here is where more controversy took place.
Powell also thought he had been ejected from the game due to him picking up a technical foul as well during the incident.
Due to some miscommunication, Powell thought he was ejected, but was quickly brought back onto the floor by an assistant coach to a standing ovation from Pirate fans in the Garden.
”It was crazy, just to be able to get called back into the game,” said Powell. “I felt like I let my teammates down, so them giving me a second chance, I really appreciate it. It’s all a blessing. Coach just said, ‘come back out,’ and once I heard that, I started wiping my tears. I’m like, ‘Come back out?’ And I just ran back out. I was just happy that they gave me a second chance.”
Willard explained why this took place and a detail that almost happened that could’ve cost the Pirates the game.
“The confusion was his first foul was a flagrant 1,” Willard said. “It wasn’t a technical foul. When they came over and said that’s obviously his second, I thought James Breeding did a good job of going to the book and correcting it. So I know he was a little upset after he got tossed, but I think it was more of a scorebook error than it was anything else.”
Imagine if James Breeding, one of the officials, did not check before this information was passed along. Miscommunication almost got a star player ejected from a conference tournament without anyone realizing what just happened. That can’t take place in any game.
It got crazier from there as the game went on and Marquette continued to cling to a lead that was as high as 12 points.
Powell gave the Pirates the lead with 6:30 minutes to go on a long-range three-point jumper. Seton Hall extended their lead to seven behind strong performances from Pirate roll players.
However, technical fouls on Quincy McKnight for running away from an official on a foul call (definitely one with no explanation) and Jared Rhoden for hanging on the rim after a missed dunk kept Marquette in the game.
It went to a whole other level after that.
With 2:00 left Joey Hauser fouled out for Marquette.
Two seconds later, McKnight picked up that previously mentioned technical foul.
Next, 44 seconds of game time passed and Romaro Gil fouls out for Seton Hall at the 1:14 mark.
After that, 11 seconds later Mike Nzei fouls out for Seton Hall.
Roughly nine seconds of game comes off the clock and then it stops again because McKnight just fouled out with 54.4 seconds to go.
Eight seconds later Rhoden gets that previously mentioned technical for hanging on the rim.
That left Seton Hall with no frontline. No Mamukelashvili, Nzei and Gil and their best defensive player in McKnight at the most crucial part of the game. Keep in mind three Marquette players had either been ejected or fouled out as well. It was a mess for both teams.
The fouls certainly helped Marquette, but more importantly it was the free throws that helped get the Golden Eagles back in the game.
Markus Howard for Marquette had 21 points in the game, but shot 1-15 from the field. That is because he went 18-24 from the free throw line on his own! In college basketball, that is unheard of especially in today’s game. No one else shot more than 12 free throws in the game, which is also a little high typically.
That gave Marquette a chance at the end to win it with a Howard three which missed and somehow, someway Seton Hall won by two and advanced to the Big East Championship on Saturday night against Villanova.
In the end, after all of that, there was nine technical fouls (almost all of them debatable), 49 total fouls, 85 free throws, three ejections, four foul-outs and a wild, confused and frustrated crowd that actually almost saw Marquette fans start to fight Seton Hall fans after words were shared near one of the press areas. Everyone felt the energy in the building. It will go down as one of the craziest college basketball games ever played.
Some of the heroes of the game.
Powell had 22 points to lead Seton Hall and made some huge shots down the stretch.
Shavar Renyolds came in off the bench to make a massive free throw and then play great defense on Howard to finish off the win.
McKnight’s defense on Howard throughout the game and this season has been unbelievable.
Nzei played his heart out and made some huge plays on both ends and Gil made some of the biggest plays of the game down the stretch on the defensive end.
For Marquette, the Hauser brothers were key to the early run for the Golden Eagles and they combined for 34 points and 15 rebounds. Despite all that happened, and Howard dealing with a wrist injury, the Hausers gave the Golden Eagles a chance to win it.
The Big East gave both teams the option to not allow media into their locker rooms after the game and both teams took that chance so both locker rooms were not open after game, which has never happened in Big East Tournament history. Even the media was upset after this one folks.
So how did Seton Hall get through all of that to get the win? Many who have covered the Pirates all season have heard this before.
“Like I’ve been saying to the media all year, the best thing about this team is we’re fighters,” Powell said. “Our backs were to the wall the whole time. We came together as brothers and had each other’s back. Sandro did a great job for me, and I love my teammates.”
For Marquette, it was sadness after the game for Wojo and his team.
“Just so many unusual things happened,” Wojciechowski said.” I don’t know if I want to get into specifics. It was the most unusual basketball game I’ve ever been a part of, and I feel bad for my kids. They’re in there, and they’re sobbing. I wish our kids would have had a chance to decide the game and their kids, too.”
Clearly, extremely tough for Marquette to swallow after having the lead for most of the game, letting it slip away in the end and have all of this controversy surrounding it. For the Golden Eagles, they now wait to see where they will be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
For Seton Hall, they have to move on to Villanova who survived an overtime scare from Xavier in the other semifinal.
“Right now it’s just getting back, getting these kids something to eat, get them off their phones, to be honest with you,” Willard said. “That’s going to be the hard part. And tomorrow we’ll do the same thing we did today. We’ll wake up and prepare for a really, really good Villanova team.”
It will be Seton Hall and Villanova in the championship game, which is a rematch of the epic 2016 title game when the Pirates won a classic.
After a wild night, we will see what lies ahead in the championship game.