The Seton Hall Pirates aimed to party in New Jersey on Wednesday night. All the stars seemed to be aligned for them to be celebrating a Big East regular season championship.
The only problem was that the Villanova Wildcats didn’t get the memo. The ‘Cats emerged victorious, despite a bit of a slide late, with a 79-77 victory over the Pirates. The victory for ‘Nova delayed the Pirates’ celebration, and may not even assure them of sole possession of first place in the Big East anymore.
‘Nova was firing on all cylinders out of the gate. They opened up a 17-12 lead by the 12:57 mark of the first half, enduring through everything with sharp poise and shooting. They connected on three 3-pointers in this run, one from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, one from Justin Moore and lastly from Collin Gillespie . Seton Hall came with a strong counterpunch though, as they eventually willed themselves ahead. Thanks to the play of Sandro Mamukelashvili, Romaro Gill, Shavar Reynolds, Quincy McKnight and, of course, the impervious Myles Powell they climbed ahead 27-22 with 4:58 to go.
Basketball is a game of runs as they say though. And ‘Nova stormed ahead with a 9-0 run, thanks to another bushel of 3-pointers. Moore, Gillespie and Saddiq Bey connected on three consecutive 3-balls and after a 3 from Myles Cale, Jermaine Samuels ended the half with a layup to help the Cats take a 33-30 lead into the break.
At the start of the second half, Villanova kept their foot on the gas. While Seton Hall opened the scoring, ‘Nova stormed further ahead. They would go on a 20-7 run en route to a 53-39 lead with 14:20 to go. From there, they kept Seton Hall at bay. The Pirates would get within three with 519 to go, but quickly responded with a 9-2 run to extend the lead up to 10.
The Pirates would make a very late play. A 9-2 run from the 25 second mark to the 5 second mark put them down within one. Samuels would cap off a strong game with a free throw to prop them up two, and the Pirates’ last possession would come up empty handed.
Samuels had perhaps the best line of the night. The junior forward scored 19 points on a mark of 6-for-12 from the floor and 5-for-6 from the FT line. He pulled down seven boards and dished out five assists, with just two turnovers in 38 minutes. Moore had 19 points as well, going 5-for-8 from 3-point land, with three boards and two assists. Bey scored 20 points, and while he fouled out, made plenty of strong contributions. Gillespie finished in double figures with 12 points, and Robinson-Earl came a point shy of a double-double, with nine points and 11 rebounds.
Mamu scored the most points for Seton Hall, earning a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Quincy McKnight followed with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Powell scored just 14 points, and went 5-for-18 from the field with eight assists. Shavar Reynolds scored 12 points off the bench, giving them four double-figure scorers in the losing effort.
The win means that Villanova is up to 12-5 in the Big East. They can get up to 13-5 if they close the season out with a victory over the Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday.
Seton Hall, meanwhile, is in a predicament. They still hold the key to an outright Big East Championship. But, to do it, they have to go to Omaha and defeat the Creighton Bluejays. The Bluejays, who defeated Georgetown on Wednesday night, are also 12-5 in conference play. So it’s plausible that we have a three-way tie up at the top of the standings if things play out that way.
Quite a lot of chaos and fun await us, right?