March 14, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Apparently Seton Hall was not satisfied with just one win in the BIG EAST Tournament.
Barely 15 hours after dispatching Butler in its first-round tournament game, eighth-seeded Seton Hall was handed the daunting task of taking on a Villanova team that was not only the BIG EAST’s top dog but also the nation’s No. 3 team.
When you consider the fact that no Seton Hall team had played in a BIG EAST tournament quarterfinal game since 2003 and hadn’t won one since 2001, well, the general feeling was that the Hall was about to see its time at the Garden come to an abrupt end at the hands of the Wildcats.
It was not, however, a feeling shared by the upstart Pirates.
Seton Hall’s Eugene Teague logged his second straight double-double of the tournament and Patrik Auda was a force on offense, but it was Sterling Gibbs who provided the tournament’s most memorable moment so far this year when he drilled a jumper at the buzzer to give Seton Hall a stunning 64-63 victory over the top-ranked Wildcats.
The victory moves the Pirates (17-16) into Friday night’s semifinal vs. Providence, a 79-74 winner over St. John’s in Wednesday afternoon’s other quarterfinal, while Villanova (28-4) most likely saw its shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament ended thanks to Gibbs.
“It was big time,” said Gibbs, who climbed the scorer’s table in celebration following his dramatic game-winner. “You beat the No. 3 team in the country it’s always a good feeling. You go into the game with the big game plan. You come into the tournament knowing that you have to win four games in four days. So to just get one step closer to that is definitely a good feeling.”
The Pirates had a pretty good feeling for most of the game, actually, as they held leads as large as 15 points at one juncture and still led by 13 points (44-31) with 14:14 to play before Villanova starting flexing those top-seeded muscles to storm back into the game.
The Wildcats used a 16-0 run over a 5:00 span to take a 47-44 lead on Darrun Hilliard’s three-pointer with 8:04 remaining. Here is where you expected the Pirates, who played Butler late Wednesday night, to run out of gas, fold their tent and call it a tournament. Surely the rested and deep Wildcats were poised to streak to the finish line and move on.
Not so fast.
Despite being 0-30 all-time vs. AP Top 3 teams, the resilient Pirates didn’t fold. They went punch for punch with the Wildcats, even taking a five-point lead (55-50) with 4:50 to play on Brandon Mobley’s three-pointer. And even when Villanova wouldn’t go away down the stretch – did you really think they would? – the Pirates held tough.
With the score deadlocked at 59-all, Seton Hall answered Josh Hart’s layup with a Jaren Sina 3-pointer for a 62-61 Pirates lead with 17.2 seconds remaining. And when Villanova countered with a jumper in the lane by Hilliard with 7.8 seconds to play for a 63-62 advantage, it was Gibbs’ turn to answer the bell and when he did t the buzzer delirium engulfed the Pirates bench as Villanova players were left stunned, many with their hands on their heads, their hopes of a BIG EAST Tournament title dashed along with that No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament next week.
Still, the monumental win for the Pirates didn’t surprise Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard at all.
“I really thought if we could get past Butler we could beat anybody,” Willard said. “If we could get past them we could get some momentum and just keep going.”
The Pirates are still going, thanks to Gibbs, even if he tried to dish out credit like one of his six assists.
“I think you should give Patrik and Eugene a lot more credit than me,” Gibbs said. “I just hit one shot and they hit a whole lot more shots than I did. They kept us in the game.”
Duly noted, as Teague finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds and Auda contributed 13 points with four boards. Hart led Villanova with 18 points.
As for Villanova, the Wildcats will head back to Philly and regroup, prepare for the NCAA tournament and wait like everyone else until Sunday’s Selection Show to see what seed they will be handed and where they will head. But all the talk of seeds is of little interest to head coach Jay Wright right now.
“You’ve heard me say this before,” Wright said. “This is not about one seeds, two seeds. This was about we wanted to come to Madison Square Garden and win the BIG EAST tournament. Winning the BIG EAST tournament would mean much more to us than a one seed. This is a great tournament. We wanted to be here until Saturday.”