The semifinals of the Big East men's basketball tournament tipped off early Friday evening, and it'll be the Seton Hall Pirates going into their first Big East title game since 1993, per SNY's Adam Zagoria, when they take on the No. 1-seeded Villanova Wildcats on Saturday night.
The top four seeds made it to the semifinals, with the Villanova Wildcats and Providence Friars beginning the festivities in Madison Square Garden, and the Xavier Musketeers and Seton Hall Pirates scheduled for the nightcap.
Here's a look at a recap of Friday's action, as well as the schedule for Saturday's championship game:
|No. 4 Providence vs. No. 1 Villanova||Villanova, 76-68|
|No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 2 Xavier||Seton Hall, 87-83|
|Big East Championship||Date||Time|
|No. 3 Seton Hall vs. No. 1 Villanova||Saturday, March 11||5:30 p.m. ET|
Villanova 76, Providence 68
Villanova guard Kris Jenkins scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting to propel the No. 1 Wildcats into the Big East final.
The first 30 minutes of the game saw a stellar defensive performance by Villanova. The Wildcats held Providence stars Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to a combined 2-of-13.
Bentil fouled out with 9:40 remaining in the second half after scoring three points and grabbing only six rebounds. Trailing 52-41 at the time, however, the Friars went on a 12-3 run over the next 2:33 to cut the deficit to 55-53.
Even when not on the floor, Bentil continued to cheer on his teammates, per Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Fouled-out Ben Bentil can't even sit and watch the end of this game. Standing at the end of the bench. Nova up six, 5 min left.— Shannon Russell (@slrussell) March 12, 2016
Despite the run by the Friars, the Wildcats responded each time Providence tried to cut into the lead. Villanova big man Daniel Ochefu converted a three-point play after the ensuing Providence timeout to push the lead back to five.
Jenkins continued to be Villanova's top scoring option, scoring 13 points in the second half. Two of those came on this rim-rattling reverse jam, via the Big East:
Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono was behind Jenkins with 15 points, including a pair of threes.
Providence managed to get to the free-throw line 18 times, but the Wildcats were able to offset that by shooting 52.6 percent from the floor, including a 55.0 percent clip in the second half.
Dunn finished with nine points while making seven of 11 free-throw attempts.
Villanova didn't need much production from leading scorer Josh Hart, who scored all 12 of his points in garbage time in the second half. Villanova is in good shape if it can continue to win games despite Hart's mediocre performances.
Seton Hall 87, Xavier 83
Isaiah Whitehead and the Pirates had plenty of reason to be motivated coming into Friday's tilt with the Musketeers, per Zach Braziller of the New York Post:
Whether that motivation was needed or not, Khadeen Carrington's game-high 23 points with seven rebounds put Seton Hall in position for its first title in 23 years with a four-point win over Xavier.
The Pirates had four players in double figures, including Whitehead's 20 points and another 15 points from Angel Delgado. Seton Hall shot 51.8 percent from the floor, including 60 percent in the second half, as the Pirates defense shut down Xavier to a tune of 34.9 percent.
Carrington has been playing good basketball at the right time, per Jeff Borzello of ESPN.com:
Khadeen Carrington has been terrific past couple weeks. 27 points last night, already has 10 - consistent backcourt complement to Whitehead.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 12, 2016
Edmond Sumner led Xavier with 21 points, but took 23 shots to get there. Xavier's last lead came at the 13:52 mark with a Sumner three-pointer, and it was Seton Hall for the rest of the game. The Pirates led by as many as 17 points.
Seton Hall has not been a member of the NCAA tournament since the 2005-06 season and have only been a part of March Madness three times since 2000. The Pirates will get the chance to punch their ticket to the dance on Saturday.
The mission was clear for Seton Hall since the beginning of this season.
"This is what we talked about before we even came here," Carrington said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com), "getting Seton Hall back on the map back to where it was."
Much of the Seton Hall contingent was shocked to find out it's been over two decades since the Pirates had a chance at a Big East crown, but Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard is still taking it all in.
“It still hasn’t hit me, to be perfectly honest with you,” Willard said, per Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press. “To be playing in the Big East championship in the mecca in New York City on Saturday night, I think these guys are starting to understand the greatness of this tournament.”
Whitehead said he knows the challenge that lies ahead with facing the Wildcats and the excitement that comes with it.
"They're a great team," Whitehead said, per the Big East. ... "They're tough. I mean, they have a lot of weapons that can beat you. They shoot the three really well. ... I'm looking forward to it. I just can't wait for it."
Villanova head coach Jay Wright called his Wildcats' win a team victory and one of his team's better games.
"That was a team effort," Wright said, per the Villanova Athletics website. We never had one guy on either one of them. We just rotated bodies and tried to help. That was the best we've ever done defensively against two great players."