By Josh Adams
New York- Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski could barely contain his disgust after his Marquette team lost in a heartbreaker to Seton Hall on Friday night in the Big East Semifinal. It wasn’t because of lack of effort from his team or an injury to Markus Howard that might have made a difference in the outcome.
“I’ve never seen anything like that happen in a basketball game before. It’s unexplainable.” Wojo said through clenched teeth
When asked what was unexplainable by a reporter Wojo shot back at him, “Did you watch the game?”
It was a Big East Semifinal between Marquette and Seton Hall that saw ejections, elbows thrown, technical fouls given out like t-shirts at a car wash opening and Seton Hall star Myles Powell leaving the bench thinking he was ejected, get to the locker room for a few moments thinking his night is over and then have an coach summon him when it dawned on the head referee that he didn’t explain to the Pirates coaching staff that Powell could still play after being assessed a technical.
“The Seton Hall bench thought that he had been ejected. When I saw that he went to the locker room I went to them and said he has one technical foul, one live ball flagrant personal foul that does not result in ejection.” said lead official James Breeding in a statement to the Associated Press about the confusion about Powell’s status.
In a game where 57 fouls were called (nine technical fouls were given out) the tension in the stands and on the court was white hot. Marquette’s Theo John and Sacar Anim were ejected for Marquette while Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvilli took an early exit as well after Powell was knocked to the ground on a layup attempt here. Powell got up and jawed at John and Mamukelashvilli jumped in and shoved John in the back and Anim was assessed his second technical of the evening for being in the middle of it.
A game that was chippy from the start ended up in chaos in the 2nd half after the referees lost control of the game as foul trouble plagued both sides. Even after the horn sounded Powell and Wojo seemed to exchange words in the handshake line.
Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard was more complimentary about the officiating in the postgame press conference. “I thought the three refs did a pretty good job, to be honest with you.” said Willard, “It was an emotional game. It’s Friday night in the Garden, Big East Tournament. Both teams played extremely hard. Emotions were running.”
What was supposed to be a Howard vs. Powell in a battle of sharpshooters turned into a game that saw players like Seton Hall’s Quincy McKnight become the hero. The point guard usually known for his defense scored 18 points for the Pirates in the win. Powell scored 22 and is well on his way to the Tournament MVP hitting shots just like this.
It was disappointing to not see Howard at full strength for the bulk of the game. The Big East Player of the Year hurt his wrist in the first half in an incidental collision and returned in the second half with his wrist heavily taped. It clearly impacted his shot and he missed a career high six free throws. Howard had a chance to win the game at the buzzer but his three pointer hit the front of the rim. He finished with 21 points but was 1-15 from the field (18/24 from the free throw line).
For a team picked 8th in the Big East in the preseason, the Seton Hall Pirates return to the Finals of the Big East Tournament on Saturday night and will play the team they upset in the 2016 final, the #1 seed Villanova Wildcats who themselves had to go to overtime to beat Xavier in the first semifinal game of the night.
I have never seen a game like I witnessed on Friday night. It was atrocious. The officials decided to make themselves the main event. The Big East players and coaches and the fans deserved better than the amateur hour from the trio of officials that called the game. I think Marquette can gripe about John’s ejection and it’s valid. The technical fouls assessed to Willard and McKnight for Seton Hall were ridiculous. Having Powell leave the bench with a certainty that he was ejected and then come back was just the icing on the cake.
There was bad blood between these two teams from the jump ball and Willard attributed it to the familiarity of the recent game that was won by Seton Hall over Marquette last week and maybe a little emotional spillage carried over into tonight. The refs overcompensated this by calling technicals on things that would be no more than a verbal warning in most situations.
It’s always said that the best umpires and refs are the ones that you don’t know their names or give them a second thought when the game is over win or lose. The trio tonight did nothing but exacerbate the already adrenaline fueled situation. It’s refereeing like tonight that causes situations like the “Malice in the Palace” in Detroit. Know the crowd, know the situation, get the coaches and players involved in what you’re going to call and don’t go rogue because you failed to establish control of the game from the jump.