By Sean Kennedy
Seton Hall 64, Villanova 63
Well, any hopes of a #1-seed for Villanova next weekend have flown out the window. In a shocking turn of events, the Wildcats were ousted in their first Big Easy tournament game thanks to a Sterling Gibbs step-back jumper from the top of the key at the buzzer. Following the upset defeat, Villanova will be lucky to hold on to a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them fall all the way down to a #3. Not exactly the impression Jay Wright’s group was hoping to make at the Garden this week.
Early on, Seton Hall was playing like a team trying to keep its season going and Villanova like a team possibly looking ahead. A 19-4 first half run by the Pirates helped propel them to a big lead, with Patrik Auda scoring all 13 of his points before halftime. The Wildcats shot just 27% in the first half with freshman Josh Hart the only player doing anything positive on the court for Villanova with 11 points and 5 rebounds (finishing the game with 18 and 8). Finally, Villanova got things going late in the second half with a 16-0 run giving them their first lead of the game at 47-44. However, Gene Teague (19 points and 12 rebounds) kept the Pirates neck-and-neck the rest of the way, setting the stage for Gibbs’ late heroics. Fortunately, this letdown didn’t come in the Big Dance, but the Wildcats can’t afford to come out flat again next week when the competition ramps up.
St. Bonaventure 82, La Salle 72
All year long, the Explorers’ problem has been an inability to score the basketball. Ironically, when they finally put things together on that side of the ball, their defense abandoned them as St. Bonaventure bounced them from the A-10 tournament. La Salle couldn’t stop the Bonnies’ front line in the first half as St. Bonaventure built an early lead. Center Youssou Ndoye and Marquise Simmons each had 12 points at halftime on a combined 11-15 shooting; Ndoye finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds despite picking up a technical arguing a foul call and having to sit out a large portion of the second half.
Jerrell Wright did his best to help keep the Explorers around with 12 points on 6-7 shooting and 6 rebounds at halftime, finishing with a career-high 26 points on the game. Following Ndoye’s technical, the Explorers closed to within one point but could never get over the hump and earn their first lead of the game. Tyreek Duren added 15 points, but Tyrone Garland was held scoreless on 0-7 shooting in what may be the last collegiate game for those two guards. La Salle could conceivably get invited to the NIT or CBI tournaments, but with this loss pushing them one game below .500 on the season, it seems likely that we’ve seen the last of the Explorers on the year.
2:30 PM: Saint Joseph’s (21-9, 11-5 A-10) vs. Dayton (23-9, 10-6 A-10) [A-10 tourn.]
St. Joe’s looks to become the only one of five City 6 teams to win a conference tournament game when they begin A-10 tournament action against the Flyers. Dayton is coming off an easy victory against last-place Fordham in the first round and will look to fare better than their two losses this season at the hands of the Hawks. Although St. Joe’s won easily in Philadelphia, the result was much closer in Ohio with the Hawks prevailing by just 3 points. Rutgers leading scoring Jordan Sibert hit 6 threes in that game and is a dangerous threat from behind the arc at 44%.
Despite the Hawks’ success against the Flyers this season, don’t expect this game to be a cakewalk for St. Joe’s. With both teams currently projected among the last four in to the NCAA tournament, this contest may very well determine which of these two teams is dancing next weekend. The Hawks have struggled in losing their last two games, and facing a Flyers team that ranks among the more dangerous offenses in the country, this one may come down to the wire.