NEW YORK – There has never been a shortage of exciting games at the Big East Tournament and the 40th edition of the tournament at the world’s most famous arena continued that long line of drama.
Butler, St. John’s and Seton Hall all picked up wins on the opening day of the 2022 tournament on March 9 at Madison Square Garden.
Butler put on a brilliant show in overtime to defeat Xavier and Seton Hall scored five points in the final 40 seconds to erase a narrow deficit to edge defending conference tournament champion Georgetown in the nightcap. In between, St. John’s overcame a sluggish start to rout DePaul.
That set up Thursday’s quarterfinal matchups that will see top seed Providence taking on Xavier at noon before Creighton (20-10) and Marquette (19-11) take to the court for their first game of the tournament. The evening session will have Villanova (23-7) taking on St. John’s and Connecticut tipping off against Seton Hall in the day’s final game.
The two semifinal games are scheduled for Friday and the championship game is set for Saturday evening.
BUTLER 89, XAVIER 82 (OT)
The art of shooting a basketball has evolved over the years as players have gone from two-handed set shots to putting up attempts from more than 20 feet. Yet, the one shot that has changed little still often proves to be the most crucial.
The free throw, from a mere 15 feet, and without a defender, can often spell the difference in the outcome of a game.
It did on March 9 as Butler connected on 13 of 16 attempts from the foul line in overtime to come away with an 89-82 win to defeat Xavier in the first game of the 2022 Big East tournament.
A pair of free throws from Simas Lukosius with four seconds remaining in regulation tied the game and forced the extra session where the Bulldogs had little trouble in taking control and leading by as many as 11 points late in overtime before emerging with the win to advance to the quarterfinal round of the tournament.
Lukosius and teammate Chuck Harris combined for 56 points in the game. Harris finished with a game-high 29 points, while Lukosius ended with 27 points, including 11 of 13 free throws in the game. Twelve of his 27 points game in the pivotal overtime period after Harris and teammates Bo Hodges and Aaron Thompson all had fouled out.
The game was a tight one throughout the course of the first 40 minutes as neither team could take control. Xavier’s largest lead of regulation came at 4:42 of the first half when Zach Freemantle connected on a pair of free throws to give his team a 24-18 lead.
Butler’s largest lead would be five points which they matched twice in the second half. The last time the Bulldogs led by that much came at 8:27 on a layup from Harris that put his team in front 54-49.
It appeared the No. 8 seed Musketeers would come away with the win when they led 66-60 on a free throw from Freemantle with 52 seconds remaining in regulation.
Harris would later connect on a shot in the lane nine seconds later and tacked on a pair of free throws with 29 seconds left to pull Butler to within 66-64. He added a driving layup with 24 second left to tie the game. It was the eighth straight point for the six-foot, two-inch sophomore guard.
Paul Scruggs returned the lead to the Musketeers from inside the lane with eight seconds to go, but fouled Lukosius to set the stage breathe new life into the Bulldogs.
Bryce Nze also reached double figures for the Bulldogs with 15 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, 13 of which came on the defensive end.
Jack Nunge led four Xavier players in double figures with 24 points. Scruggs ended with 15 points of his own while Freemantle and Colby Jones both chipped in with 14 points as Xavier fell to 18-13 on the season and anxiously awaits to learn its NCAA Tournament fate when the tournament field is announced March 13.
ST. JOHN’S 92, DEPAUL 73
The night started out well for DePaul but it didn’t take long for St. John’s to flex its collective muscle on the way to a impressive 92-73 win over the Blue Demons in the opening round of the tournament.
The 92-point output was the second most in the school’s previous 39 appearances in the Big East tournament. The Red Storm also established a new conference tournament record by committing just two turnovers against the Blue Demons. That eclipsed the previous conference record of three turnovers by Georgetown set against Boston College in the 1987 tournament.
DePaul, the No. 10 seed in this year’s tournament, opened the game on a 12-2 run fueled by five of seven shooting from the floor in the first four minutes of the contest.
The seventh-seeded Red Storm overcame the sluggish start to go on a 12-2 run that was capped by a 3-pointer from Montez Mathis with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half to tie the game at 14-14. It was part of a larger 24-5 spurt that pushed the St. John’s advantage to 26-17 lead.
After losing its big advantage to start the game, DePaul regrouped in time to fashion a 7-0 run to pull within two points at 26-24 late in the half, but Julian Champagnie scored the next nine points for St. John’s to push his team’s lead to 35-24. It was part of a 22-point effort by the six-foot, eight-inch junior forward in the half.
An 11-0 run by the Red Storm to end the half gave them a 49-29 lead at the intermission after the Blue Demons could not score over the final 3:21 of the half.
DePaul would get no closer than 17 points in the second half and trailed by 27 points with seven minutes remaining the game.
Champagnie finished with a game-high 26 points while teammates Stef Smith and Esahia Nyiwe also reached double figures. Smith finished with 13 points in the game and Nyiwe narrowly missed a double-double as he tallied 10 points and pulled down a career-high nine rebounds in the game for the Red Storm.
Posh Alexander, Aaron Wheeler, Joel Soriano and Dylan Addae-Wusu all scored eight points for the Red Storm which improved to 17-14 with the win. Mathis finished with seven points for St. John’s.
The Red Storm connected on 37 of 74 (.500) shots from the floor in the game. Twenty-two of those 37 successful field goals came via an assist by a St. John’s player. Alexander was credited with seven of those assists and Addae-Wusu tallied five in the game.
DePaul had four players finish in double figures in scoring with Javon Freeman-Liberty leading the way with 17 points in the game. Nick Ongenda finished with 13 points while David Jones and Brandon Johnson both chipped in with 11 points. Jones and Ongenda both grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Blue Demons in that department in the game.
The two teams had split their meetings during the regular season with St. John’s taking the first game 89-84 on Jan. 5 at home before dropping a 99-94 contest on Feb. 27 in the Windy City.
The loss ended DePaul’s season at 15-16.
SETON HALL 57, GEORGETOWN 53
The Big East has a long history of exciting games in the history of the storied league tournament. And the nightcap to the opening day of this year’s tournament held up that tradition.
Seton Hall’s Jamir Harris connected on a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left that proved to be the difference as the Pirates emerged with a 57-53 win over Georgetown to move on in the tournament. The Hall will play No. 3 seed Connecticut in one of four quarterfinal games.
It was the sixth straight win for the Pirates, who are now 21-9 overall this season. Georgetown ends the season at 6-25.
The Pirates, who trailed by as many as points in the first half, found themselves down 53-52 with less than one minute remaining in the game after Georgetown had erased a 52-50 deficit with 2:53 left in the contest to take the lead in the final minute.
After a 30-second timeout by Seton Hall Jared Rhoden drove the lane for the Pirates before dishing the ball out to Harris, who connected on the eventual game-winner for Seton Hall as the Pirates regained the lead 55-53. Rhoden added a pair of free throws later in the game to cap the scoring for the Pirates.
Seton Hall, the No. 6 seed, trailed 27-17 late in the first half before Kadary Richmond scored five points as part of a 7-0 run by the Pirates to end the half as they trailed 27-24 at the break.
They extended that to an 11-0 run on a rim-rattling dunk by Rhoden and a layup from Alexis Yetna to overtake the Hoyas 28-27. It was the first lead for Seton Hall since early in the game.
The game would remain close over the final 20 minutes with Seton Hall’s largest advantage before the closing heroics coming with 11:46 left in the game when Tray Jackson’s 3-pointer gave the Pirates a 42-39 lead.
Back-to-back baskets from Georgetown gave the lead back to the Hoyas, who held Seton Hall scoreless from the field over a stretch of more than five minutes late in the half. A 3-pointer from Harris, his first of three in the half, pulled the Pirates to within 47-46 with 6:15 to go in the game.
Rhoden finished the game with 17 points to lead the Pirates while Myles Cale also reached double figures with 14 points of his own. Harris finished with nine points, all coming on 3-pointers in the second half.
Yetna pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds for the Pirates to give him 10 games of at least 10 rebounds this season.
Aminu Mohammed paced three Hoyas in double figures in scoring with 12 points while teammates Collin Holloway and Donald Carey both chipped in with 11 points. Timothy Ighoefe pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.