Just another day at the office in the Big East.
When the 18th ranked team in the nation battles a team who lost its previous two games by a combined total of 50 points, the first thing that comes to mind is, "Here comes another laugher."
But in the Big East, anything is possible.
The Seton Hall Pirates, after back to back blowouts to start its Big East season against Syracuse and West Virginia, desperately needed to upset the Villanova Wildcats to have any hope of contending in the rough and tumble conference, especially with road contests against 13th ranked Notre Dame and 5th ranked Connecticut awaiting.
Villanova was coming off a loss to Marquette in its first Big East battle, but without any major out-of-conference wins, they could ill-afford to lose games against lesser opponents in conference.
With both teams needing wins, something had to give. And as is often the case in games like this, neither team wanted to give an inch.
In a back-and-forth first half, Seton Hall mounted a late charge to take a 37-35 halftime lead. Sophomore stud Jeremy Hazell led the Pirates with 23 points in the first 25 minutes of the game, as Bobby Gonzalez's squad led by as much as seven points.
But Villanova was not about to give in so quickly. Reggie Redding came in the game and guarded Hazell like a glove, forcing the Pirates to look elsewhere for offense. Jay Wright went with a bigger, more experienced lineup for most of the second half with juniors Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding joining seniors Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark, and Dante Cunningham on the court.
On paper that lineup doesn't look like an offensive juggernaut. However, sometimes all it takes is one player.
And Scottie Reynolds was up for the challenge.
The junior guard had been the centerpiece of the offense since his freshman year, where he took the nation by storm, capping off his season with a 40-point performance on the road at Connecticut, carrying the team to a key road victory. Since then, however, his play had stagnated a little, and some wondered if he was ever going to re-create some of his freshman magic.
That day was Tuesday.
Reynolds became only the second Big East player to put up two 40-point performances in conference play (Eric Murdock being the other). What makes Reynolds's games that much more impressive is that both his dominant performances were on the road.
He singlehandedly carried the offense, going five of eight from three point land and 10-17 from the floor, en route to the best game he has played since his freshman year.
He wasn't alone, however. Anderson and Cunningham both had double-doubles in points and rebounds. Even the offensively-challenged Redding added 10 points in addition to his stellar defensive effort.
But even with Hazell stymied and Reynolds tearing it up for the Wildcats, Seton Hall stayed in the game. Juniors Eugene Harvey and Robert Mitchell and senior Paul Gause picked up their play in the second half. Harvey had 19 points and nine assists, while Mitchell added 13 points and nine rebounds. Gause contributed 10 points, but his feisty defense led to four steals.
And even though Redding had shut down Hazell for the last 16 minutes, he still was able to fire one last salvo: a banked, off-balance three-pointer with 9.2 seconds to go to tie the game at 76. Reynolds couldn't answer, so the game went to overtime.
Overtime was just as hard-fought as regulation, but in the end, Villanova was able to get to the foul line when they needed to. The team shot 24-30 from the stripe, led by Reynolds's 15-16. Seton Hall only managed 14 free throws throughout the game, though they did make 13 of them.
Villanova (13-2, 1-1) will welcome Louisville to the Wachovia Center on Saturday. As mentioned earlier, Seton Hall (9-6, 0-3) travels to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish.
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