(Photo by Jason Schott)
The Villanova Wildcats won their third straight Big East Tournament, and fourth in five years, when they outlasted the Seton Hall Pirates, 74-72, on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
As could be expected from these two rivals and perennial conference powers, this one was even from the start, with Villanova leading 28-26 at halftime.
In the second half, Villanova opened up a seven-point lead, 41-34, but Seton Hall came right back with a 12-3 run capped by a Romaro Gill layup at the 13:00 mark.
The lead went back and forth, and Villanova held a two-point lead, 61-59, with 7:15 left when they started a 7-0 run that was capped by a pair of Phil Booth free throws at the 3:00 mark that made it 68-59.
Seton Hall fought back and was within three points, 73-70, on Anthony Nelson free throws with 41 seconds remaining.
The Pirates’ defense then stepped up, as Myles Cale stepped in front of a driving Eric Paschall in the lane and drew and offensive foul with 24.3 seconds remaining.
Powell followed that up by missing a layup, and then putting it back to make it a one-point game, 73-72, with 15 seconds left.
Paschall was fouled immediately on the ensuing inbounds pass, and he went to the free throw line, and made just one of two, which made it just a two-point game, 74-72, with 13 seconds left.
The Hall had plenty of time to tie or win it, and the ball was in Powell’s hands as the seconds ticked away. He fired up a three-point attempt from in front of the Pirate bench, but it hit the back rim and it flied out.
“I thought it was going to drop,” Powell said. “Shooters usually aim for the back of the rim, and it just hit off long. We got another opportunity at it. We tried to throw it up to Sandro to see if he could tie it, but we just didn’t have enough time.”
Powell led Seton Hall with 25 points on 9-19 from the field, including 4-9 from behind the arc, with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Anthony Nelson had 12 points (4-8 FG, 1-2 threes) off the bench, with 2 rebounds 2 assists, and a blocks. Myles Cale had 10 points (3-12 FG, 2-8 threes), with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Sandro Mamukelashvili had 7 points (3-9 FG), 14 rebounds, and a steal.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard said. “I’m so proud of what we accomplished and where we are. I’m also excited, if we play that hard next week, I’m excited about next week. I really am. That’s what I told the team. That’s a good basketball team out there cutting down the nets. They deserve it. They fought hard. They had some big stops. But I love the fact my team fought, and we had a chance to win it. I’ll take him (Powell) shooting the last second shot every day.”
Villanova was led by their dynamic duo of Eric Paschall, who had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block; and Phil Booth, who had 16 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block.
Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said that “these two seniors, they’re going to go down as two of the greatest Villanova basketball players of all time. You’ve got to thank God you had the opportunity to be a part of our lives. They’ve meant so much to all of us.”
Wright said of winning this tournament once again, “A thrill to just be in the final here at the Garden. You guys have heard me say it all week, but we really do genuinely relish this opportunity to play in this environment, this building, in this league.
“We want to give a lot of credit to Seton Hall. I think Kevin’s done as good a job as anybody in this country. This team, this Seton Hall team right now, if you look at their games, losing in double overtime on the road to Georgetown and then beating us, Marquette, all the teams in this tournament, easily could have won this game. They could beat anybody in the NCAA Tournament, and they have; they’ve beaten Kentucky, Maryland. Just speaks to how good our league is and what a great job Kevin did. We have great respect for them.”
On what winning this tournament means considering all the young players they worked in this season, Wright said, “It means a lot to our program to get these grind-it-out kind of games. It’s really a tribute to Phil and Eric. They really have been like coaches this season. We can do so much on the court, but they’ve got to take guys in the locker room and teach them how they prepare for practice, how they prepare for games. They’ve got to teach them how to sleep at night, how to eat the right way. They’ve been like big brothers, fathers almost to these guys.
“It’s been frustrating for them. There’s a lot of times in games when these young guys don’t know what they’re doing, and these guys are just trying to cover for everybody. It’s just been incredible experience of leadership by these two.”
Saddiq Bey also had a big night, with 16 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, with 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Jermaine Samuels, who was one of the heroes in their semifinal win on Friday night over Xavier, had 12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block.
2019 Big East Tournament Honors:
Winner of the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Tournament: Phil Booth, Villanova
2019 Big East All-Tournament Team: Eric Paschall, Villanova; Myles Powell, Seton Hall; Quincy McKnight, Seton Hall; Paul Scruggs, Xavier; Markus Howard, Marquette.