This Seton Hall Pirates team has been something special all year and really shocked a lot of people with their surprisingly great season.
Those people might be even more shocked now.
The Pirates have now been crowned Big East champions after their upset win over the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats 69-67. Villanova is also ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll. This upset comes just one day after the Pirates upset the No. 2 seeded Xavier Musketeers, downing them for the second time this season.
Isaiah Whitehead played absolutely fantastic. He finished with 26 points, and converted on an and-one with 18 seconds left to put Seton Hall up one. Desi Rodriguez and Derrick Gordon each contributed to the win as well. Rodriguez finished with 12 points and four steals, while Gordon finished with ten points and three rebounds. The Wildcats were led by Kris Jenkins, who had 23 points.
Strong First Half Fueled Seton Hall
Throughout the Big East Tournament, Villanova has struggled to come out and find their rhythm right away. Though it didn't hurt them against Georgetown and Providence, it came back to bite them tonight.
Villanova ended up being outscored by Seton Hall in the first half 40-29. After both teams were connecting on their shots early, Seton Hall jumped out to an 18-4 run to put them up 39-25 with 2:59 left in the half. Villanova would hobble back to make it a manageable 11 point deficit heading to the break, but it was tough to overcome.
In A Game That Came Down To The End, The Pirates Prevailed
After Villanova went on a 12-2 run of their own in the middle of the second half, this game had every intention that it would come down to the wire. Both teams battled for the remainder of the second half, both teams knew they had to deliver in the clutch.
With 2:07 left, Mikal Bridges hit two free throws to make it tied at 64-64. Both teams were then scoreless for the next minute, until Jenkins hit a huge three pointer to put the Wildcats up three with 52 seconds left. The next possession, Whitehead drew a foul on Daniel Ochefu, but he only made one of two with just 42 seconds left. With Seton Hall down two, they decided not to foul right away, and hope for a defensive stop. Josh Hart then committed a turnover and gave the ball back to the Pirates with 28 seconds remaining.
At this moment, the Pirates looked for their guy, Isaiah Whitehead, to step up and make a play. Whitehead took the ball out of bounds, and after taking a few ticks off the clock, he took a hard drive to the basket. Whitehead got his layup to go off a friendly roll, and also drew a foul from Jenkins to potentially put Seton Hall up one if he converted (as seen below). He did just that, and it was a game changer.
With 18 seconds left, Villanova drew up a play to get the ball to their guy, Kris Jenkins. Jenkins came up short with his three point shot, but Josh Hart got the rebound. Hart took a shot with 5 seconds remaining, but Angel Delgado recorded the block of his lifetime and recovered the rebound. Seton Hall converted in a crazy game, and one that these young adults will remember for the rest of their lives.
Seton Hall Was Doubted All Season
Heading into this season, nobody predicted that Seton Hall would take up the Big East by storm and be one of the top seeds for the Big East Tournament. Nobody thought there would be any chance the Pirates had a shot at getting into the NCAA Tournament this year. And certainly, nobody believed Seton Hall would have a chance to defeat Xavier and Villanova to secure a Big East title.
They changed all that. After a rough beginning and a bad loss to Long Beach State, they settled in for a seven game winning streak. Shortly after, they defeated the then No. 12 ranked Providence Friars, as well as racking up wins against many Big East teams. Their biggest win came on February 28 against the then No. 5 ranked Xavier Musketeers, and many believed it locked up their NCAA Tournament bid.
Many may have not taken them seriously after their eighth place finish in the conference last season, and thought they would be just another team. Whitehead had a terrific season, and many believed he deserved Big East Player of the Year. Like them or not, this Seton Hall team deserves all credit due.
With this loss, Villanova may have lost their right to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, being a two seed would still be impressive for this Wildcats team and will now be looking for redemption after this loss. Their heads should not be down, as they certainly have potential to be national champions.
This was a terrific tournament for Seton Hall, and the selection crew will have to take notice. The Pirates could see themselves all the way up to a No. 5 seed after this win, which is very impressive. This team has certainly shown they will be ready for big games and will look to make a name for themselves on the big stage.