New York, N.Y. – Day Two of the Big East tournament played out on Thursday with all four of the higher seeds holding serve in games that may have lacked for close endings, but certainly did not lack for star performances.
VILLANOVA VS PROVIDENCE
The top seated Wildcats began the day by riding the performances of Eric Paschall, Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth to pull away from Providence 73-62.
Providence rallied from a 31-24 halftime deficit to tie the game at 44 with 9:20 left in the game. Villanova called time out and whatever Wildcats Coach Jay Wright told his team in the huddle worked. Villanova outscored the Friars 17-6 over the next five minutes to create separation and go on to the win. Asked after the game what turned it around for his team coming out of the time out, Wright joked, “I don’t remember (what I said), but it wasn’t anything awesomely inspiring. I can tell you that.”
What Wright did do was to continue putting the ball in the hands of his three stars and watch them lead the Wildcats to the win. Paschall, a 6-8 big with the skill set of a wing, scored 20 points to lead all scorers. Normally a reliable shooter from distance, Paschall made only one of four shots from behind the arc against the Friars. So the fifth-year senior, who started his collegiate career at Fordham, turned to his drive game to attack the rim off the dribble with success. “It’s just being aggressive,” said Paschall. “Coach gives me the confidence to be aggressive, shoot threes and also take what the defense gives me.”
“He (Paschall) has really improved in each area of the game, but mostly in his playmaking,” said Wright. “We now put the ball in his hands to be a playmaker, where he can score, he can get to the foul line and he can get other people shots. You know, I think his game actually fits the NBA game better than college.”
Gillespie is a sophomore who after getting time as a reserve last year, has stepped seamlessly into the lead guard role held down the last two years by Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson, both now playing in the NBA and both of whom have started games for their respective teams this season. A low-mistake player who values the basketball, Gillespie made Providence defenders pay for giving him space on the perimeter by knocking down 5 of 10 shots from distance on his way to scoring 19 points. He also led both teams with six assists.
Providence was led by double-digit scorers Nate Watson, Alpha Diallo and Isaiah Jackson. Watson, a 6-10 big with a wide body, did his work in the paint making 5 of 7 shots in scoring a team-high 15 points. Diallo, a versatile 6-7 wing, and Jackson, a 6-6 scorer with range from distance who plays off the bench, each chipped in 14 points. “If I remember right when it was 44-44, we had a big transition lay-up that we missed,” said Providence Coach Ed Cooley. “We made too many mistakes, and a lot of costly mistakes, especially late. I thought we had great energy at the start, but in the second half, the game played out into the kind of year it’s been for us. Today the best team advanced.”
Villanova matches up with Xavier, a 63-61 winner over Creighton, in the first semi-final game on Friday.
XAVIER VS CREIGHTON
Winners of six of their last seven games coming into the Big East tournament, the Xavier Musketeers stayed hot by edging the Creighton Bluejays 63-61 in game two action.
Xavier big Zach Hankins led both teams with 22 points and nine rebounds in leading the way for the Musketeers. A graduate transfer who came to Xavier from Ferris State, a division two school in Michigan, Hankins had his way in the paint where he scored on half-hook shots, lay-ups and dunks. He came up huge with a tip-in with 25 seconds left to break a 61-61 tie and give Xavier its margin of victory. “Zach Hankins had a tremendous night for us,” said Xavier Coach Travis Steele. “Our guards did a tremendous job of getting him the ball, whether it was off drives or off pick-and-roll action.”
Hankins, a wiry 6-11, broke out on Wednesday after being held to a collective 16 points in the two regular-season meetings between the teams. He’s a one-level scorer who uses his length and soft shooting touch to score deep in the paint. “I don’t create a lot for myself,” explained Hankins. “They (teammates) were were able to get inside the paint and then draw my defender up and give it to me. I can finish that. So I give a lot of credit to my teammates being able to find me there, get Creighton in rotation and just take what the game gives me.”
Creighton was led by Ty-Shon Alexander, a 6-4 guard who was named honorable mention All-Big East this season. After averaging 5.5 points per game as a freshman, Alexander blossomed into a 16-plus ppg scorer this year. He scored 21 points against Xavier scoring from all three levels. His midrange jump shot with 1:30 left in the game put a punctuation mark to a Bluejay rally that tied the score at 61 setting the stage for Hankins’ late-game heroics.
Creighton, which brought a five-game winning streak into the game, finished with an 18-14 record. Bluejays Coach Greg McDermott was holding out hope after the game for an NCAA bid for his team. “We played one of the better schedules, top ten schedules in the country, and if that’s important, then we’ll have a shot,” he said. “If the committee decides that it’s not that important, then we won’t.”
MARQUETTE VS ST. JOHN’S
Things were not trending well for Marquette heading into this quarter-finals match-up with St. John’s. Ending the regular season on a four-game losing skid and in the process seeing their Big East championship hopes extinguished, the Golden Eagles now had to face a St. John’s team that beat them in both meetings during the regular season and by 20 points in the first game on the St. John’s campus. With a team that starts five players all with the ability to play offense and defense on the perimeter, the Red Storm is a tough match-up for Marquette.
But then Thursday night happened when Marquette flipped the scrip. Behind 30 points from Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard, the Golden Eagles rolled to a 86-54 victory to advance to a semi-final game against Seton Hall on Friday night. “We have a great deal of respect for St. John’s,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “They made it incredibly tough for us in the regular season, so we knew we had our hands full. Our guys really responded.”
Being shadowed by St. John’s wing Justin Simon, the Big East defensive player of the year, and not getting a clean look at the basket in the first seven minutes of the game, Howard got fouled shooting a shot from behind the arc, made all three free throws and in the next 23 minutes, dropped 30 points on the Red Storm. The sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden got the opportunity to see Howard at his best. The 5-11 junior needed only 15 shots to score 30 points. Howard made 3 of 6 shots from behind the arc and befitting a player with a 91 percent career free throw shooting mark, knocked down all 11 of his free throw attempts.
Until Howard got cooking, and even after he went into high heat mode, Marquette got strong play from its other four starters. Sacar Anin, a 6-5 junior wing and a two-way player usually assigned the task of guarding the opposition’s best guard/wing scorer, scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half. A slasher who loves to drive the ball to his right, Anim not only scored at the rim but from behind the arc as well where he connected on 3 of 4 shots. “That (penetrating) was just a big focus going into the game, just trying to penetrate and create for other teammates,” said Anim. “I want to get in there and make a great decision, whether it’s being on the finish or kick it out for the three.”
Brothers Sam and Joey Hauser, combination forwards standing 6-8 and 6-9 respectively, combined to make 6 of 12 shots and score 15 points. Each pulled down seven rebounds to help Marquette to a 46-30 rebounding advantage over the shorter Red Storm. Theo John, whose production decreased along with Marquette’s four-game losing streak, made his presence felt at the rim on both ends of the court. The Big East leading shot blocker on the season with an average of over two blocks per game, John blocked two shots, altered numerous shots and scored nine points.
It’s never a surprise when Howard goes off for a 30-point plus game seeing how he had done it 16 times in his career before Thursday night’s outburst. But that he would do it against St. John’s, a team that held him to 25 points in two regular season games this year was a bit of an eye-opener to even the most ardent Marquette fans. “They (St. John’s defenders) definitely used their length and athleticism to their advantage,” said Howard of past experiences against the Red Storm. “They would speed me up a lot, and kind of what was the difference tonight was, given my teammates, they really stepped up big in terms of taking control of the game from the early start.”
“Markus is the Big East player of the year for a reason, and it’s not just because he can score” said Wojciechowski. “You’re talking about a complete player who every team’s game plan is geared to stop him. What he’s been able to do this year is fantastic.”
Howard and his teammates move on to face Seton Hall, a team they split two games with during the regular season, in the late game of Friday night’s semi-final action.
SETON HALL VS GEORGETOWN
With Madison Square Garden still abuzz after Howard’s 30-point outburst, it figured to be nearly impossible for any player in the Seton Hall–Georgetown game to top Howard’s performance. But for at least the first half, Seton Hall guard Myles Powell did just that. Scoring 29 points in the first half to set a Big East tournament record for points scored in a half, Powell electrified the Madison Square Garden crowd in helping stake the Pirates to a commanding 53-28 lead at intermission. He would only score two more points after the break, but the damage was done and Seton Hall cruised to a 73-57 victory.
Powell, a 6-2 junior guard, who like Howard scores from all three levels, scored at the rim with dunks and reverse lay-ups and from distance off the catch. He steps as many as eight feet behind the arc to shoot and when he connected from well behind the arc late in the first half, most of the fans rose to their feet in a combination of excitement and amazement.
With the victory, the #3 seed Pirates advance to take on #2 seed Marquette in the late game on Friday night. It marks the fourth time in the last six years a Seton Hall team has advanced to a Big East semi-final game.