by Josh Adams
New York- The finale of quarterfinal Thursday during the Big East Tournament is one of the most entertaining spectacles in all of college basketball. It’s usually a 9:30 tip in front of a half-filled Madison Square Garden that has a hodge-podge of both fans that may have been drinking since the first game’s noon tip-off and basketball junkies that have no problem watching 12 straight hours of hoops. Those fans this year were treated to one of the more entertaining late night tilts this side of the Jimmy Fallon Show as Butler won in the final seconds over Seton Hall on a Tyler Wideman tip-in during the waning seconds of the game. The win gave the Bulldogs their first ever victory in the Big East Tournament.
Seton Hall came in Thursday night a little banged up with both Ish Sanogo and Desi Rodriguez sitting out the past few games with injuries. A palpable sense of relief was felt by the Seton Hall faithful as both Rodriguez and Sanogo left the bench to check themselves into the contest early in the first half. Both contributed early to the Pirates cause with Sanogo stunning both the crowd and press row with his offense. Know for being the Pirates specialist on defense, the senior had his coming out party on offense, hitting long range three pointers and providing nifty moves in the interior. Seton Hall started the game on fire, establishing an early lead with the play of Khadeen Carrington and Sanogo as the difference maker early on for the Pirates. Butler looked a bit shell-shocked in the early going but they regained their footing thanks to the play of Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin. The duo make a formidable combination and brought the Pirates lead within single digits to 43-35 at the half.
Butler’s second half plan was to get the ball to Baldwin early and often and that they did. The Bulldogs guard was pretty much unstoppable for the entire game and he set a career high in points tonight with 32. As the lead changed hands several times in the final minutes, the Pirates took the lead, 74-73, on Carrington’s three point play with 11 seconds left. Butler put the ball back into Baldwin’s hands but he missed the layup. To his and the Bulldogs good fortune, Tyler Wideman was there to collect the miss and tip the ball into the basket with four seconds left. Myles Powell had a chance to be a hero for the Pirates but his three pointer missed the mark and the Bulldogs advanced to the semi-finals with a 75-74 win. The vocal Pirates fans whose chants echoed off the Garden roof were left silent as Butler celebrated it’s first victory in three tries this season over Seton Hall.
The four Seton Hall seniors (Sanogo, Rodriguez, Delgado and Carrington) found themselves not ready to pack up their dorm rooms and put out resumes. There is one goal left, one thing this team that has a Big East Tournament Championship under their belt has never done. That is to win an NCAA Tournament game. The group and Coach Kevin Willard took tonight’s loss in stride as they looked towards the bigger picture. “We need to get healthy and get ready.”, said Rodriguez after the game, “It’s a disappointment to lose, for sure but we still have big goals ahead.” Willard echoed those sentiments in the post-game press conference. “For the first time we’re going to get some rest heading into the NCAA Tournament”, said Willard, “We’re going to take the rest. We’re going to use it to practice and get a little sharper on some things we’ve been doing well at.”
While the Pirates are a lock to get into the NCAA’s, their seeding is not. There are no guarantees in what region they’ll be placed or if they will be a single digit seed or higher. One thing the team has going for them is veteran leadership, something that is of high demand in the NCAA’s. As they gather around the TV on Sunday with the rest of us waiting to hear their name called, it won’t matter if the game is in Boise or Nashville. What matters to this group of seniors is that the next time they put on a Seton Hall uniform, it won’t be their last.