In a battle of youth versus experience, youth came out on top and gathered some more experience along the way.
The Wildcats overcame their largest deficit at halftime of the season to make the game close coming down the stretch.
Unfortunately for Villanova, it couldn’t make enough big plays to put the game away and secure the Big East Tournament trophy for the second straight year.
Despite the Wildcats’ taking the lead in the closing seconds of the game, the Pirates were able to snatch it away and go onto win 69-67 to claim their third Big East Tournament title in program history.
“We played a great second half, and then down the stretch, they made the plays, and we didn’t.” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.
With the game tied at 64 and 52 seconds to go, Kris Jenkins knocked down a shot from long range to give Villanova its first lead since the opening basket of the game.
Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead would go to the line for two shots, making the first but missing the second. Villanova had a chance to add to its lead, but turned the ball over right into the Pirates’ hands off of a five-seconds violation.
Whitehead was given the ball again, and this time, he delivered. He drove to the basket and knocked down the and-one. At the free throw line, he put the finishing touches on what would be the Wildcats’ deathknell.
“I felt I had an opportunity to score the ball,” Whitehead said. “I mean, I saw Kris Jenkins coming over and I knew that he wouldn’t be able to get in position fast enough for me to draw a charge. I just tried to lay it in on him.”
Thanks to Whitehead, Seton Hall took back the lead, holding a narrow 68-67 edge over the ‘Cats with 18.5 seconds to go. He had been a problem for Villanova all night, scoring a game-high 26 points.
Villanova had a shot to answer right back. Ryan Arcidiacono took the ball up the court. The ball found its way into the hands of Jenkins, who had made many big shots throughout the game. The pass wasn’t exactly the best, and he saved it from going out of bounds. He quickly shot it up from deep, but the ball went right off the rim and into Josh Hart‘s hands.
“On offense, Ryan did a good job of getting into the paint, and he kicked it out, and he gave us a chance,” Jenkins said. “It just didn’t drop.”
Hart’s second-chance shot at the basket was no good and was even blocked by Angel Delgado.
“We wanted to get it to Kris, give Kris a chance to shoot it or drive it,” Wright said. “And then we wanted to attack the offensive glass. When you’re down, you know you want to get to the glass and Josh got a great look, you know, and it didn’t go.”
Delgado corralled the ball and was immediately fouled. He made the first but missed the second. Daniel Ochefu collected the ball and sent it right to Arcidiacono. From there, he dribbled, lost his footing, and pulled up at the three-point line. His final shot attempt was short of the basket.
“You know, we just got beat by a team that played better than us tonight,” Wright said. “They played a great first half.”
It didn’t look like Villanova would even be able to get back into the game. The Wildcats trailed 40-29 at halftime, their largest deficit at the break this season.
It felt like Seton Hall was making everything, while Villanova struggled to hit its shots.
The Pirates were 17-of-30 (56.7%) in the first half overall, including a 5-of-12 (41.7%) from long range.
The same couldn’t be said for Villanova, who was 12-of-27 (44.4%) on the floor in the first half. It was even uglier from long range, only making 2-of-9 (22.2%) of its 3-point attempts.
The Wildcats came out revitalized in the second half, finding more success from beyond the arc. The long range shot was essential in pioneering a 16-4 second half run that catapulted them right back into the game.
During that stretch, Villanova made three baskets from downtown, including a Jenkins’ 3-pointer to tie the game up at 50 with 9:21 remaining.
“We talked at halftime that they were going to make a run on us,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “I really think it was important the way the Creighton game went the other night. We had pretty much the same thing. We had to battle back.”
Jenkins finished with 23 points and five rebounds. Hart chipped in another 17 points and five boards.
With the Big East Tournament all said and done, the Wildcats have their eyes set on a new goal: the NCAA Tournament, where they will try to shake off their past demons.
“We’ll learn from this,” Wright said. “We’ll go into the Tournament knowing that we still have to get a lot better.”
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Ismael Sanogo, Seton Hall
Josh Hart, Villanova
Kris Jenkins, Villanova
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Tournament (Dave Gavitt Trophy):
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall