NEW YORK – Despite all efforts to the contrary, the top four seeds all survived to remain alive in the 2022 Big East Tournament, albeit in mostly dramatic fashion, being held at Madison Square Garden.
But, hey, this is the Big East after all and excitement always seems to be the norm.
Top seed Providence and No. 2 seed Villanova, both pulled out victories in the closing seconds of their quarterfinal round games and No. 3 seed Connecticut turned to defense when its offense struggled on the way to defeating Seton Hall 62-52 to remain alive for its first Big East title since 2011. Creighton, the No. 4 seed, defeated Marquette in the other quarterfinal round game.
Providence, which improved to 25-4 on the season with its win over Butler, will play Creighton (21-10) on Friday in one semifinal game. The 25 wins are the most for the Friars since posting a 25-9 record during the 1986-87 season.
Providence entered this year’s tournament as the regular season conference champion for the first time in school history.
Villanova (24-7) will take on Connecticut (23-8) in the other semifinal contest with the championship game scheduled for Saturday evening.
PROVIDENCE 65, BUTLER 61
For a while looked like this year’s Big East Cinderella would be a Bulldog.
Butler, the No. 9 seed, gave the top seeded Friars all they could handle, but Al Durham delivered one of the biggest shots of his collegiate career to lift Providence to a 65-61 win on March 10 in the first game of the quarterfinal round.
Durham connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 39.8 seconds left in the game to put the Friars in front to stay. It was part of a 9-2 run to end the game for Providence, which jumped out to a 9-3 lead to start the contest.
In between, the two teams went back and forth in a game that finished 12 lead changes and 11 ties. Neither team led by more than six points at any time during the contest.
The win also improved Providence to 11-2 on the season in games decided by five points or less. The Friars entered this year’s conference tournament ranked 11th in the latest national poll.
“We didn’t do a lot of things great, but we did enough to win,” PC coach Ed Cooley said after the game. “(Thursday) was a microcosm of the type of season we’re having.”
Trailing 59-58 with less than one minute remaining in the game, A.J. Reeves found Durham deep in the left corner and the six-foot, four-inch Durham deftly swished the game-winner for the Friars. It was Durham’s first 3-pointer since Jan. 30 when Providence slipped past Marquette.
“That’s a credit to my teammates and my coaches having faith in me, and a credit to the grind and work and faith,” said Durham, a graduate student.
Providence, who claimed the Big East regular season title for the first time in school history this season, went scoreless for more than four minutes midway through the second half, but the Bulldogs, who defeated Xavier in overtime one night earlier to advance to the quarterfinal round, were unable to put the game out of reach.
The Friars got a 3-pointer from Noah Horchler to end the drought and teammate Nate Watson connected on a shot in the paint a short time later to tie the game 53-53 with 4:52.
Butler regained the lead 59-56 as the game entered the final two minutes before Durham delivered the long-range dagger for the Friars.
Butler’s final attempt to tie the game or regain the lead went awry when Simas Lukosius’ layup was blocked by Justin Minaya.
Despite the early six-point deficit to start the game, Butler began to whittle away at the Friars. The Bulldogs used an 8-2 spurt to tie the game 11-11 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half. PC trailed 24-18 with less than seven minutes to go after being without a score for more than five minutes but used a 9-1 spurt of its own to take a 27-25 advantage.
The two teams were tied 31-31 at the intermission.
Watson led all scorers with a season-high 26 points in the game for the Friars. He was joined in double figures by Jared Bynum who had 16 points in the game. Horchler finished with eight points in the game and Durham added seven points.
Butler placed three players in double figures with Chuck Harris leading the way with 14. Bryce Golden and Bo Hodges also reached double figures with 13 and 10 points, respectively, for the Bulldogs, who dropped to 14-19 on the season with the loss.
CREIGHTON 74, MARQUETTE 63
Creighton continued its stranglehold on Marquette this season by notching a 74-63 win over the Golden Eagles in a quarterfinal round game on March 10 at Madison Square Garden.
It was the third win of the season for the Bluejays who defeated Marquette in each of their two meetings during the regular season. Creighton won 75-69 in two overtimes on Jan. 1 in Milwaukee and posted a narrow 83-82 win at home on Feb. 20.
A 10-5 run by Creighton to start the second half proved to be the beginning of the end for the Golden Eagles as the Bluejays moved a 29-26 halftime advantage into a 39-31 lead on strength of three stellar plays from Ryan Kalkbrenner, Ryan Hawkins and Arthur Kaluma.
Kalbrenner ignited the spurt with a field goal and Hawkins followed with a 3-pointer to extend the Creighton lead. Kaluma’s dunk and free throw put an exclamation point on the run for the Bluejays.
Creighton added to the cushion on a pair of back-to-back field goals from Hawkins and a jumper in the lane from Trey Alexander to increase the lead to double digits at 46-34 with 13 minutes left in the game. The Bluejays would lead by as many as 13 points what a 3-point play from KeyShawn Feazell with 11:24 remaining that gave Creighton a 51-38 advantage.
Marquette managed to close the gap to 63-58 win less than four minutes remaining when Tyler Kolek connected on a 3-pointer from the corner and moved to with 63-61 when Greg Elliott converted a Creighton turnover and added a free throw on the play with 3:06 left in regulation.
The Golden Eagles would get no closer the rest of the way as Creighton used an 8-0 run to end the game.
Hawkins led the Bluejays with 18 points and was one of four Creighton players to reach double figures in scoring. Kalkbrenner finished with 14 points, along with nine rebounds and two blocked shots, while Kaluma also tallied 14 points in the contest and Alexander chipped in with 11 points, to go along with a career-high eight assists in the winning effort for the Bluejays who had a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points in the game.
Darryl Morsell led the Golden Eagles with 18 points, 16 of those coming in the second half. Justin Lewis was the only other Marquette player to reach double figures with his 17 points. He added seven rebounds to share team-high honors in that department with Kolek.
Marquette dropped to 19-12 on the season with the loss.
VILLANOVA 66, ST. JOHN’S 65
Villanova coach Jay Wright showed no visible signs of emotion as the game clock expired. But make no mistake, there was a huge sense of relief as the veteran coach watched his Wildcats overcome a 17-point deficit in the second half to advance to the semifinal round with a narrow 66-65 win over St. John’s.
Brandon Slater’s two clutch free throws with 2.8 seconds remaining spoiled an otherwise solid defensive effort down the stretch as the No. 8 ranked Wildcats survived an upset bid by St. John’s to win the game 66-65.
Trailing 65-64, Villanova saw its first shot at regaining the lead go by the wayside when St. John’s Aaron Wheeler blocked a shot that set up a scramble for the loose ball that Slater managed to find before being fouled and going to the line for a chance to lift his team from an abyss of a 17-point deficit earlier in the half.
“We work on free throws every day in practice,” Slater said after emerging as the hero of the game for the Wildcats. “When I stepped to the line my teammates and coaches reminded me, it’s just like practice. They gave me that confidence and I was able to knock them down.”
And down when the Red Storm.
Villanova started the game Jermaine Samuels on the bench because of back spasms. Samuels was averaging nearly 11 points per game coming into the tournament for the Wildcats.
And the absence of Samuels showed early as St. John’s which defeated DePaul the previous night to advance in the tournament, got seven points from Julian Champagnie in the first four minutes on the way to a 9-6 early lead. Villanova was its own worst enemy out of the gate as the Wildcats connected on just two of 11 shots from the floor in the first five minutes of the game.
St. John’s continued to add to its early lead and went ahead 19-10 with 8:07 remaining in the first half on a pair of free throws from Joel Soriano.
Caleb Daniels, who started the game in place of Samuels, drained a pair of 3-pointers that allowed the Wildcats to close to within 19-16 before the Red Storm scored five straight points to lead 24-16 with 6:24 to go in the half. Four straight free throws made it a 9-0 run and St. John’s led 28-16. Daniels had a team-high nine points in the first half.
The Villanova drought ended when Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore both nailed 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor to help pull the Wildcats to within 28-22 with just over two minutes remaining before halftime.
St. John’s, which led 30-23 at intermission, scored the first seven points of the second half to lead 37-23 advantage when Champagnie connected on a 3-pointer. The Red Storm managed to extend the lead to 41-25 with 16:13 left in the game before Villanova launched its comeback bid.
Three-pointers from Gillespie and Daniels over the next few minutes helped the Wildcats close to within 46-40 later in the half and when Slater converted a traditional 3-point play a short time later, Villanova found itself trailing 46-45.
The slugfest continued as the teams traded leads the rest of the way until the dramatic ending lifted Villanova into the semifinal round.
Daniels paced a trio of Wildcats in double figures in scoring as he finished with 19 points in the game. Moore and Gillespie added 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Champagnie led all scorers in the game as he poured in 23 points for the Red Storm and teammate Stef Smith added 10 points. Posh Alexander added nine points.
CONNECTICUT 62, SETON HALL 52
It may not have been the type of performance Connecticut coach Dan Hurley was looking for from his Huskies on the offensive end, but when things like that happen, as they sometimes do, other aspects of the game take on added importance.
Such was the case as the UConn defense rose to the occasion to thwart a pesky Seton Hall team on the way to a 62-52 quarterfinal round win over the Pirates on March 10.
After being tied at 4-4 in the early going, Connecticut took the lead for good thanks to a 13-4 spurt that saw the Huskies build a 17-7 lead just over halfway through the opening half of play. They extended that advantage to 49-33 with nine minutes remaining in the game, but would not allow the Pirates to get any closer than 10 points the rest of the way en route to the triumph
Connecticut limited the Pirates to just 36 percent shooting from the floor in the game and the 52 points were the fewest scored by Seton Hall this season.
Individually, it was the play on defense by UConn’s Tyrese Martin who proved to be the key to the outcome. He hounded Seton Hall standout Jared Rhoden much of the night and the end result was Rhoden scoring just seven points in the game after the senior guard entered the tournament sporting a 16.2 scoring average. Rhoden managed to connect on just two of 13 shots from the floor on Thursday.
The backcourt tandem of R.J. Cole and Martin each scored 17 points to pace the Huskies in the win. Cole delivered several key plays in the second half to help keep the Pirates at bay. A 3-pointer from Cole early in the second half put his team in front 32-20 after leading 29-18 at halftime and later connected on a jumper that kept the UConn advantage in double digits at 11 points. He also added a no-look pass to teammate Andre Jackson for a dunk and a 38-27 Huskie lead at the time.
Isaiah Whaley joined Cole and Martin in double digits with 10 points of his own.
Andre Jackson, Adama Sanogo and Tyler Polley all added six points as just six players broke into the scoring column for the Huskies. Sanogo led all players with 11 rebounds in the game.
Seton Hall, which saw its six-game winning streak snapped with the loss, was led in scoring by Myles Cale, who pumped in 17 points. Teammate Kadary Richmond added 10 points for the Pirates who fell to 21-10 on the season and awaits to find out their NCAA tournament fate on Sunday.
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.