Seton Hall blows final chance to win Big East outright

Seton Hall blows final chance to win Big East outright

OMAHA, Neb. — It seemed like a formality after Seton Hall’s 8-0 start in Big East play. When the Pirates won at Villanova for the first time since 1994, giving them a three-game lead in the conference on Feb. 8, it seemed inevitable.

Even when the lead fell back to two games six days ago, it felt like a matter of when, not if.

But in less than a week, that lead vanished. Seton Hall couldn’t come through Wednesday against Villanova on Senior Night and faltered down the stretch Saturday afternoon.

At head-splitting CHI Health Center, No. 11 Creighton completed a season sweep of Seton Hall, pulling away late for a commanding 77-60 victory and sending the eighth-ranked Pirates into the postseason on a two-game losing streak.

While they will share the league title with Creighton and Villanova, Kevin Willard’s team will be the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament, a major disappointment after leading the conference almost the entire way.

The Pirates trailed by just two with 6:52 to go, before the hot-shooting Bluejays pulled away, ripping off a 23-8 run and scoring on their last six possessions to earn a share of the Big East regular-season crown for the first time. Seton Hall was powerless to stop the run, unable to execute at either end of the floor, and now will have to regroup from this mini-slide against elite competition.

Seton Hall’s top two stars, Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukelashvili, shot 9-for-23 from the field. Powell finished with 15 points and Mamukelashvili had just seven, with 12 rebounds. Quincy McKnight also scored 15 for the Pirates. Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski was the best player on the floor, notching 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

With 9:27 left, Seton Hall took its first lead since the opening moments of the second half, going up three on a Jared Rhoden 3-pointer. Creighton, however, reeled off seven points in a row. And when Ty-Shon Alexander drove the lane for an uncontested layup, Creighton was up by seven with 6:01 left, its largest lead to that point, leading to a Seton Hall timeout.

The closest the Pirates got the rest of the way was four. As in the first meeting with the Bluejays (an 87-82 loss at Prudential Center on Feb. 12), they couldn’t get the needed stops. Creighton always had an answer, frequently from beyond the arc, hitting 14-of-26 3-point attempts.

Seton Hall got off to the start it needed, building a 17-12 lead, as it took the air out of the ball in the half-court, slowing down Creighton. But when Powell picked up his second foul and went to the bench with 10:53 left in the first half, the Bluejays began to hit their stride. They ripped off a 12-2 run, fueled by three Zegarowski 3-pointers. The lead grew to six before Seton Hall responded, reeling off seven straight points, the last two on a Powell drive across the lane.

Fittingly, the game that decided the league title was tied at 32 at halftime. Creighton made five 3-pointers and Seton Hall outscored them, 18-8, in the paint. Mamukelashvili was particularly hard for the Bluejays to handle. He scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds. Though Zegarowski scored a game-high 15 points over the initial 20 minutes, his two high-scoring running mates, Alexander and Mitch Ballock, were held in check, limited to 2-of-9 shooting for five points.

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