Coming off a big-time win at #15 Butler in their regular season finale that almost no one saw coming, the Seton Hall Pirates earned the 5-seed in the 2017 Big East Tournament, and got to play in the afternoon session in the quarterfinals.
The game was close against the 4-seed Marquette Golden Eagles in the first half, but in the second, Seton Hall clamped down on defense and held on to the ensuing lead for an 82-76 win at Madison Square Garden, moving on to the semifinals on Friday at 6:30.
Here are the 5 Thoughts:
The star of the game for the Pirates was national rebound king Angel Delgado, without question, as he finished one assist shy of becoming the second player EVER to record a triple-double at the Big East Tournament. The big man finished with 12 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists, with Marquette doubling him in vain for most of the night. If they came hard with the double-team, Angel found the open man. If they didn't, he went to work inside, sometimes to score and other times to do more setting up.
In the first half, he was working on a quadruple-double with five turnovers as well, but he didn't give the ball up at all in the second half. Added to his stats were two blocks, one steal, and..... A PUTBACK DUNK. With his teammates ribbing him all season long about his lack of dunks despite being so strong inside, I asked him whether he was more-excited about the near-triple-double or the dunk.
"The dunk," he said with a wide smile.
FUN FACT: No Seton Hall player has ever had more rebounds in a Big East Tournament game than Angel's 16 today. There's a reason he's a unanimous first-team, all-conference pick this year.
2. Standing Tall
Delgado wasn't alone- the whole Pirates team just ran Marquette off the floor inside, as Seton Hall had an almost-unreal 40-12 edge in points in the paint, coupled with a 41-30 edge on the glass and a 12-7 margin in second-chance points. The Golden Eagles took half their shots from outside the three-point line, and made 13 of them, but 3-4 of these were late when the Pirates basically had the game sewed up.
Now, early in the contest, Marquette was getting inside a lot, but kicking out for a lot of wide-open looks at the three-point line. They hit their fair share, but could have had a 10-point halftime edge easily as they flat-out missed some great opportunities. Given that, Seton Hall did a good job of staying focused and eventually turning a deficit for most of the first half into a tie ballgame at the break, 35-35. That mental stand to not let things get away too much gave them a great shot in the second half, if they could improve their own play on both ends....
3. Garden (De)Fence
Which they did. Both teams weren't their sharpest in terms of made shots in the first half, but the Pirates held Marquette without a single point for nearly five minutes in the second half, going on a 12-0 run from the 16:45 mark to the 11:56 mark, a run that eventually ballooned out to 17-2 at its greatest. The Golden Eagles would not get closer than seven points the rest of the way until Andrew Rowsey hit a three with one second left for the final margin.
For a team that always prides itself on its defense, that's where the game was won in the second half. The Pirates also were absolutely huge in two other areas after halftime....
4. Free Money
Turnovers and free throw shooting can turn a game on its head if there's a big-enough difference between the two teams, and after committing eight first-half turnovers (five by Delgado, as we said), Seton Hall turned the ball over just three times after the break.
Remember that troublesome foul shooting from early in the season? Yeah, that wasn't an issue at all. The Pirates went an unbelievable 19-20 from the charity stripe in the second half to finish 22-23 for the game, putting any faint hopes of a Marquette comeback on ice. Seton Hall wasn't their best today (in fact, in the first half, they were very sloppy overall), but they cleaned it up in a big way in the second half, and the turnovers and free throws certainly had a big role in sealing the deal in addition to the wrecking they did inside.
5. The Villanova Problem
The Pirates' reward for defeating Marquette (a defeat that puts the Golden Eagles squarely on the NCAA bubble while basically clinching at the worst a nine-seed for the Hall) is a date with the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats, who thrashed St. John's 108-67 in the first quarterfinal of the day, tying a Big East Tournament record for margin of victory. The Wildcats have blown out the Hall twice this year, and they went absolutely bonkers against the young Red Storm.
In just one of his many quoteworthy moments in the postgame press conference, Kevin Willard described his thoughts on his semifinal opponent this way:
"It's like waking up on Christmas- you're all excited, you go down, you open up the present, and you've got a bunch of coal."
While it is a general rule that it's very, very hard to beat a good team three times in the same season, what I witnessed in Villanova's destruction of St. John's was one of the top teams in the country. They played like a title contender in their first Big East Tournament game this season, and while I think the Pirates can keep it closer than their meetings in the regular season, this is a better Villanova team than the one that the Hall defeated in last year's Big East final.
Nothing's impossible, though, and strange things happen at Madison Square Garden from time to time. Seton Hall has, after all, won six of their last seven games here at the World's Most-Famous Arena. Perhaps the Pirates won't be saying "Bah, Humbug" after the rematch of the 2016 Big East Championship game.
In the words of Jack Buck, "We will see you tomorrow night!"