Seton Hall and Butler -- two teams in the same leaky boat, flailing to keep their seasons from going completely under -- Wednesday night inaugurated the reconstituted Big East Tournament with a messy but ultimately dramatic contest.
Seton Hall (16-16), after its 13-point lead dwindled to one in the final nine and a half minutes, survived for another day, 51-50, and will play top-seeded Villanova Thursday. Butler (14-17) goes home.
It was not your father's Big East Tournament. Though Seton Hall was making its 34th appearance in the 35-year-old event -- having missed only the 2007 tournament -- Butler was the new kid, having immigrated from the Horizon League and the Atlantic 10 the past three seasons.
Just five days ago, Butler beat Seton Hall a second time this season when Butler sophomore Kellen Dunham scored 29 points. Wednesday night, he totaled four -- all of them in the last 6:18.
"We were going to give up some jumpers to [Khyle] Marshall and [Alex] Barlow," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said, "because [Dunham] just killed us [last weekend]. You let him get going, you're in for a long night."
Dunham missed his first nine shots, five of those from three-point range, and Barlow, a guard who is a normally efficient three-point shooter, missed his first 11 -- nine from long range -- and finished with three points.
Marshall had a game-high 22. But Seton Hall controlled the game with the power inside moves of 6-9 senior Eugene Teague (14 points, 11 rebounds), even as Teague was attempting to bounce back from the flu.
"I wasn't going to sit it out," Teague said. "I was going to battle through it."The Pirates' leading scorer, senior swingman Fuquan Edwin, had his shooting problems, hitting only 4 of 13 field goals, but finished with 10 points, and had help from senior Brian Oliver (4-for-9, 10 points).
Meanwhile, Butler kept fading, from a 23-22 halftime deficit to a 45-32 hole with 9:46 to go, before springing from the shadows with a 14-5 surge. But, even then, Dunham struggled mightily, finally scoring with a layup off a steal, but missing a free-throw attempt and another jumper.
Two blocks by junior Kameron Woods and Dunham's pass for a Marshall layup with 1:49 left, cut the Seton Hall lead to three, and Dunham -- after yet a another missed jumper -- got a dunk off a Butler turnover.
That made it 51-50 with 47 seconds left. But Edwin stole a Dunham pass with four seconds to go and Barlow's desperation half-court attempt at the button missed.