Friday, March 9, 2018

JP's 5 Thoughts: Pirates drop close one to Butler, bow out in Big East tourney quarters

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEW YORK -- That one was tough to swallow.

One game after Kelan Martin willed Butler within seven points in a Pirates win at the Rock, Kamar Baldwin did the same, and despite late heroics from Myles Powell and Khadeen Carrington, Tyler Wideman’s putback with four seconds left sunk Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden, 75-74, in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night. It was the first quarterfinal round loss for the Hall since 2003, while it was Butler’s first-ever Big East Tournament win.

Here are the five thoughts from the Garden:

1. Feeling Hot, Hot Hot

Seton Hall got off to a tremendous start on the offensive end, hitting shots from everywhere in spurting out to a 24-10 lead. Carrington was hot, finishing the first half with 11 points, 4 boards and 6 assists against just a pair of turnovers in the first half, while Myleses Powell and Cale hit jumpers from deep.

Of course, Butler had an answer, as Kamar Baldwin went on a personal eight-point run at one point to pull the Bulldogs back into it en route to 14 first-half points, and that run would continue throughout the game. He set a career-high with 32 points Thursday on 12-for-20 shooting, and was basically unstoppable no matter what the Pirates tried to do. With just under six minutes remaining and the Pirates up seven points, with the Garden rocking for them, Baldwin went on a 6-0 run and scored nine straight Butler points to shoot the Bulldogs right back in the game.

Down the stretch, Powell (on a friendly rim roll for a three-pointer) and Carrington (with the go-ahead and-one layup that put the Pirates ahead with 11 seconds left), had big moments that, in another game, would likely be remembered as the game-winner. But again, you can’t win them all, and Butler deserves full credit for this win on a night where Martin, their go-to guy, was a tad off with his shot.

2. Slow Night For Angel

There was also one big reason why Butler gave themselves a huge chance in this game before Baldwin’s heroics, and that was the fact that Angel Delgado, who destroyed the Bulldogs for 49 points and 25 rebounds in the two regular season meetings combined, just never seemed to get it going. Now, you can’t hold such a player down forever, and Angel did have 13 points and nine boards at the end of the day, but still, Butler had a game plan and they stuck to it. Reserve big Nate Fowler, who was obliterated inside on Saturday against Delgado, went into full-out deny mode, selling out with his whole body to deny Delgado touches inside. That was just one of a few adjustments the Bulldogs made, but relative to the way Angel torched Fowler the last time, it may have been the biggest one.

3. Walking Wounded No More?

Well, not quite, but the Hall got both Desi Rodriguez and Ish Sanogo back from ankle injuries Thursday night. Desi was clearly not 100 percent, but just having those two guys back in the lineup was a big lift for the Pirates and their fans. When both checked into the game, the partisan Pirates crowd cheered loud enough for me to not be able to hear the PA announcer mispronounce “Mamukelashvili.” To his credit, Desi was able to contribute eight points in 16 minutes, so he wasn’t exactly on crutches out there, either.

Meanwhile, Ish Sanogo was arguably the Pirates’ best player in the first half, making all five of his shot attempts for 12 points. That included a pair of threes, and two post moves that put his ankle to a rigorous test. The moves involved a lot of pivoting on said ankle, and it passed that stress test with flying colors.

“I thought Desi and Ish, for two guys battling injuries, worked hard over the last two weeks to try and get themselves in a position to play,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “I knew Desi would probably be only able to play in the first half, because sitting after halftime, his foot was going to get cold. I thought both guys gave us a really good lift, especially Ish in the first half, the way he shot the basketball."

4. Rest On Up, Son

That brings me to the silver lining of this loss for the Pirates -- they already know they’ll be selected to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday -- and so they are now able to rest for a full week before they head to the Big Dance.

“I’m going to look at the positive side of it,” Willard said. “And that’s for the first time, we’re going to have a chance to get some rest going into the NCAA Tournament. We’re going to take the rest, we’re going to use it to practice and get a little sharper on some things that we’ve been doing well.”

Seton Hall would have loved to win this one and jump up to maybe a 6-seed, but for this team, the goal has always been winning a game in the NCAA Tournament having gotten there for the last two (and soon to be three) years. Like Willard when he sat Desi Rodriguez on senior day Saturday,  you have to look at the big picture if you’re a Pirates fan.

5. Living It Up In The Garden

This was a return to normalcy -- the Big East Tournament during Championship Week at Madison Square Garden. Normalcy in that the conference was back where it belonged after the Big Ten decided to rent it a whole week before Selection Sunday because money/geographic footprint/appealing to Rutgers/whatever else you want to call it.

It wasn’t just weird, it was just wrong to tune in and see the Big Ten logos on the floor at MSG last week on TV. It was a major conference tournament that felt too early, and I bet for the Big Ten, the coaches weren’t really fans of playing a compressed schedule in the regular season to make it work logistically.

This is the Big East’s home, and no matter what other conferences try to move in, it should remain the Big East’s home for the rest of time. The quarterfinals were a sellout, marking the first time in the new era with 10 teams that happened in the quarterfinal round, a testament to how the league has grown into its old name. And the games? They were all entertaining and the late games in each session were close and exciting.

There’s just nothing like the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, period.

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