Big East Championship Cream Rises To The Top

Myles Powell guides Seton Hall while Villanova humbles Xavier.

The Big East has always been one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball, and that toughness has not waned since the league was realigned back in 2013. The Big East Semifinals featured the top four seeds, as was expected at the end of the Big East regular season, but the games were anything but business as usually.

#1 Villanova vs. #4 Xavier

Game 1 of the Friday double-header pitted the 4th seeded Xavier Musketeers against the top seeded Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats were looking to avenge a loss to Xavier from a few weeks ago, while the Musketeers were looking for a repeat performance.  

 Villanova jumped out to a 20-11 lead after the 7:40 mark, but Xavier was able to steadily close the gap behind the play of sophomore guard Paul Scruggs (28 points) and senior power forward Zack Hankins (18 points). At the end of the first half, the Musketeers actually led, 34-28.  

But eventually the cream rises to the top, and Villanova has been the cream of the conference for quite a while, so the Wildcats weren’t going to remain behind for too long. 

That’s when senior guard, Phil Booth (28 points), took over, leading the Wildcats to a second half rally. Helped out by Jermaine Samuels (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Eric Paschall (12 points, 5 rebounds), Villanova clawed it’s way back into the game, erasing a seven point deficit with under three minutes to play. At the end of regulation, the score was tied 58-58, and the teams headed into OT.

In overtime, Xavier couldn’t seem to execute the way they did early in the first half. With a little over two minutes to play, they were down 62-68. In the final minute, they squandered away their chances and Paschall hit two free throws with 3.1 left on the clock to ice the game for the Wildcats, 71-67.

”Just leadership from two great seniors who have done it their whole careers, their whole lives,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright after the game. ”We’re just really lucky to have these two.”

”We competed hard, man. We really did.’ said first-year Musketeers coach Travis Steele. “I thought we battled all the way to the very end,”

So the Wildcats move on to the Big East Championship game. This is the team’s 10th Big East Championship appearance, tying Connecticut for third-most behind Syracuse (15) and Georgetown (13).


#3 Seton Hall vs. #2 Marquette

The second game in this scintillating semifinals night featured a match up between #2 seed Marquette and #3 seed Seton Hall, and it may have been the most gut-wrenching game of the entire tournament.

Fans were excited to watch the top two scorers in the conference go at it in a head-to-head scoring battle between Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard (25 ppg) and All-Big East first team selection Myles Powell (22.9 ppg). But, while the game was exciting, the highly anticipated match-up did not meet the expectations.

Instead, it was a game filled with fouls (57), technical fouls (9), 85 free throws and three player ejections.

At the end of the first half, Marquette lead by three, 36-33. But Seton Hall wanted to represent for their fans who traveled across the Hudson to see them play, so they went to work after halftime.

Powell would catch fire, dropping eight straight points including a pair of threes and a pull-up jumper, to give the Pirates its first lead of the game, 46-44, with 14:55 left.

But then the whistles woke up. A third foul on Powell drew a protest from Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, which led to a technical foul on the Pirates head coach.

Marquette responded with four free throws to regain the lead. Then Powell, who was starting to heat up, took the ball to the rim and was fouled hard, leading to an altercation between the teams. The refs jumped in and separated the squads. When the dust settled, despite no punches being thrown, Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili and Marquette’s Sacar Anim and Theo John, were ejected after being assessed with technical fouls.

Powell was also hit with a “T”, which was his second of the game. But head official James Breeding explained that Powell’s “tech” from the first half was actually a personal flagrant foul, so it wasn’t a true technical foul.

”It probably wasn’t communicated clearly to them that his personal foul in the first half is a live ball flagrant personal foul, which carries a different penalty than the technical foul,” Breeding said. ”And those two together don’t result in ejection.”

After the fouls, confrontations, ejections and a potential game winning shot that just came up short, the Pirates ended up winning the game by a score of 81-79, putting them in the championship game on Saturday night.

”Just so many unusual things happened,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. ”It was the most unusual basketball game I’ve ever been a part of, and I feel bad for my kids. I wish our kids would have had a chance to decide the game, and their kids, too.”

Part of that “unusual basketball game” was the performance of Big East Player of the Year, Markus Howard. The Golden Eagles’ baller went an astounding 1-15 from the field, but went to the line 24 times, hitting 18 of those attempts.

”It was crazy,” said Powell, the conference’s second leading scorer. ”I thought I let my teammates down.”

But Powell has a chance for redemption as the Pirates will be taking on the Wildcats in the Big East Championship, while the Golden Eagles will head back home to eagerly await their opponent in the NCAA tournament.

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