As the Big East Tournament reached the semifinal round Friday night, with the four remaining squads all secure with their places in the NCAA Tournament, the teams were playing for seeding and pride, not necessarily in that order. Seton Hall in particular believed it had something to prove, and it kept proving it Friday night.
The Pirates beat the fifth-ranked team in the country for the second time in two weeks to show they can play with anyone, anywhere. On Saturday night, they will play Villanova in the championship game, having beaten Xavier, 87-83, to advance. Villanova is the defending champion and Seton Hall had not been in the final since 1993.
Khadeen Carrington and Isaiah Whitehead, two of the New York City players who give Seton Hall its distinct local flavor, had 23 and 20 points, respectively.
Fans were chanting “We want Nova” toward the end of an intense game marked by four double technicals and a flagrant foul call in the second half. The result should only boost the confidence of Seton Hall (24-8), which has won 11 of its past 14 games.
Players on Xavier (27-5) had extra motivation because their coach, Chris Mack, was overlooked in conference coach of the year voting. Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard shared that honor with Villanova’s Jay Wright. But Willard’s players were the proudest Friday night, knowing full well that his job had been in jeopardy after a disappointing 2014-15.
“It’s been a blast, man,” Willard said after the semifinal win against Creighton Thursday. “I’ve had so much fun watching these guys grow. And they’re still puppies, year-old puppies, but they’re still great.”