Seton Hall fails to clinch Big East as Villanova gets revenge

Seton Hall fails to clinch Big East as Villanova gets revenge

The stage was perfect. Senior Night. Just a win needed for Seton Hall to claim the Big East regular-season crown.

There was one problem: Villanova wasn’t in Newark to watch a celebration. The Wildcats have owned the conference since it was recreated seven years ago, and that championship muscle memory hasn’t gone anywhere.

Jay Wright’s 14th-ranked team reminded everyone how tough it still can be, building a big lead and holding off several Seton Hall rallies to ruin the party with a 79-77 victory in front of a Prudential Center record crowd of 16,863.

After losing to the Pirates in Philadelphia, Villanova returned the favor, keeping alive its own league title hopes. Now, for Seton Hall to win the league outright, it has to knock off No. 11 Creighton on Saturday afternoon in Omaha, Neb. A loss could drop the Pirates (21-7, 13-3) to a third seed in next week’s Big East Tournament if Villanova (22-7, 11-5) wins at Georgetown to create a three-way tie for the title.

In his final home game, Myles Powell started slow and never quite got going for the Pirates, finishing with 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting. Sandro Mamukelashvili had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Quincy McKnight notched 16 points and seven assists.

Villanova's Collin Gillespie shoots over Quincy McKnight.
Villanova’s Collin Gillespie shoots over Quincy McKnight.AP

But that’s not where Seton Hall fell short. It was on the defensive end. Villanova hit 13 3-pointers, five by dynamic freshman Justin Moore, who scored 19 points. Saddiq Bey led the Wildcats with 20.

Seton Hall did get within three following a Shavar Reynolds 3-pointer with 5:19 remaining. From there, though, Villanova, reeled off nine of the next 11 points to regain command. Mamukelashvili’s triple sliced the lead back to three with 22.3 seconds left, and after Bey missed two free throws, Seton Hall had one last chance. Powell’s 3-pointer, however, was off. Reynolds, who was fouled on the rebound attempt, made two free throws with 4.0 seconds left. After Samuels made one free throw, Myles Cale’s 3-pointer was off target and after the horn.

The Wildcats started the second half as quickly as the first, going up 11 following 3-pointers by Jermaine Samuels, Bey and Moore with 16:34 left. Seton Hall immediately responded, with a Romaro Gill slam and a Cale 3-pointer. That momentum, however, couldn’t be sustained, because the Pirates couldn’t get stops. Villanova kept bombing away from deep and went up 14 after another Samuels triple.

Mamukelashvili’s steal and layup sent Seton Hall into the under-8 timeout down six, giving the large crowd another reason to hope.

By the time the ball was tipped, the crowd had already worked itself into a lather following the emotional Senior Day activities. It concluded with Powell and head coach Kevin Willard sharing a lengthy embrace, tears running down the senior’s face. When Powell was announced last in the Seton Hall starting lineup, the roof nearly came off. “Let’s go Pirates” chants could be heard reverberating throughout the arena.

But Villanova wasn’t shaken. It led 10-4 early and wasn’t behind until more than midway through the opening half. It calmly executed its offense, taking and making quality shots. When Seton Hall looked as if it were ready to take control, up 27-22 and with the crowd on its feet, the Wildcats ripped off a 9-0 run.

Cale at least slowed the Villanova momentum by hitting a 3-pointer, but the deficit was three at the break. Powell, perhaps pressing in front of the home fans for the last time, scored seven points on 3 of 9 shooting. McKnight was Seton Hall’s best player, scoring 10 points.

Villanova’s plan was simple: Allow Seton Hall to shoot from the deep. It worked, the Pirates making just 4 of 14 from distance, failing to use their significant size advantage up front.

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