First they overcame the specter of last year’s collapse. Then they defied the preseason rankings, finishing third when they were expected to be seventh. And now, here is Seton Hall — not only all but guaranteed of making the NCAA Tournament but ever closer to one of those top seeds, thanks to Thursday night’s 81-73 win over Creighton.
Talk about pirates and their plunder. Not that it came all that easy.
The Pirates punched their ticket to the Big East Tournament semifinals against Xavier on Friday at Madison Square Garden. Along the way, they’ve erased a year’s worth of bad feelings — having ended last season with nine losses in the last 10 games — and resurrected a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2006.
“It’s been a blast,” coach Kevin Willard said. “We’ve come a long way . . . I’ve answered a lot of last year questions. We’re a different basketball team. I can’t explain it.”
Willard sort of did, though. His team is more focused, more disciplined and, he said, pointing to Khaleed Carrington, they absolutely want to win.
With the third-seeded Pirates (22-8) up by two with 26 seconds left, Derrick Gordon missed both of his free throws, but Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead was fouled while jostling for the rebound. Whitehead made both of his shots, securing the win.
Carrington had 27 points and Whitehead added 24 points and 12 assists. Cole Huff carried scrappy Creighton with 35 points and nine rebounds.
After trailing by 14 points in the first half, Creighton drew to within three on James Milliken’s three-pointer and tied it at 63 when Huff was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws. It was tied again at 66 and 73 before Carrington’s floater gave the Pirates the lead for good.
“It just made out that we had that one big run at the end,” Carrington said. “I think I did a great job and my team did a great job.”