BY SHANE DAVIES
Xavier 62, Butler 57
NEW YORK — In a game they desperately needed to win in order to sit comfortably on Selection Sunday, Xavier overcame a nine-point deficit Thursday deep into the second half to knock off Butler, 62-57.
Junior guard Trevon Bluiett was really struggling with his shooting stroke entering Thursday’s game and didn’t heat up until the second half. In the final 10 minutes, he made big shot after big shot, including the go-ahead bucket with 17 seconds remaining. After scoring just six points in the first half, Bluiett finished with 23.
ONIONS! BLUIETT! @XavierGameday
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) March 10, 2017
Right before Bluiett hit that shot, Xavier head coach Chris Mack was left with a difficult decision. Clinging to a one-point lead, Butler’s Kethan Savage was fouled hard with 39 seconds left and was injured on the play. Since Savage was unable to shoot his free throws, Mack had to choose between the remaining four Butler players on the floor to take Savage’s shots.
Xavier staff wanted everyone but Kamar Baldwin (81% on the season) to shoot them — but Chris Mack shot them down and chose Baldwin. He hadn’t shot any free throws all day, only 36 attempts on the season, and a was a freshman.
Baldwin only made one of two to tie the game, and Xavier took the lead for good next possession.
It’s honestly a borderline miracle that Xavier was able to pull out a victory tonight after committing 17 turnovers, including a whopping 13 in the second half. Their ability to scratch their way back into the game says a lot about the character of this team. There was a stretch with 13 minutes remaining where Xavier turned the ball over four consecutive times in less than a minute.
Butler, on the other hand, really struggled to find consistent offense in their half-court sets. 35% of their 57 points scored came directly off of Xavier’s turnovers. But they shot 4-of-19 from 3-point range.
The Bulldogs are in no danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but may have fallen a seed line given their poor performance.
Xavier will take on Creighton tomorrow night for the chance to play for the Big East Tournament Championship on Saturday.
Villanova 108, St. John’s 67
In front of a pro-Nova crowd, the reigning national champion Villanova Wildcats completely dismantled St. John’s, 108-67. Villanova repeatedly extended a ¾ court pressure throughout the first-half to slow down St. John’s uptempo offense (13th nationally in offensive pace), making them execute in the half-court. Needless to say, St. John’s struggled to counter, turning the ball over on numerous possessions and settling for low-percentage mid-range jumpers.
Offensively, Villanova was outstanding. They routinely pushed the pace, something they haven’t typically been known to do this season, even against lower-tier opponents. St. John’s had no answer for Villanova defensively, as the Wildcats rained down nine 3-pointers in the first half to blow the game wide open early. The game was simply never in question.
“Really proud of our performance,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “And I want to give St. John’s credit for the season they’ve had and last night. They did a hell of a job last night. That was a pretty beat up, tired team that we played.”
Balanced scoring across the board paced Villanova early, but contributions from Donte DiVincenzo, who provided 25 points off the bench on 7-of-8 shooting from the field including five three-pointers and Eric Paschall with 17 points gave Villanova a boost in scoring they don’t usually enjoy from their bench.
As a whole, they shot a staggering 63% from the field, including 15 three-pointers. DiVincenzo set a new career high in points scored.
Seton Hall 82, Marquette 76
Marquette has lived and died by three-ball all year, and when their shots aren’t falling from deep, they are susceptible to an upset. That’s exactly what happened Thursday afternoon when Seton Hall pulled a minor 82-76 upset over the Golden Eagles to cut their time at the Big East Tournament short.
“I thought we really started the game well,”said Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski. “We were moving the ball well, we got some good looks in the second half that we normally make that we didn’t make. And I thought that had an impact on our decision-making offensively, and it impacted our defense as well.”
Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, a freshman that usually doesn’t see over 23 minutes per game, came up big for the Pirates off the bench, dropping 17 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field with three 3-pointers.
Marquette’s Andrew Rowsey led all scorers with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including four 3-pointers. Seton Hall will take on Villanova in a rematch of last year’s Big East Championship final.
Seton Hall’s head coach Kevin Willard expressed his, uh, excitement about playing Villanova in the semifinals after the game.
“It’s like waking up on Christmas, you’re all excited, you go down, you open up the present and you’ve got a bunch of coal,” said Willard. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m CT.
Creighton 70, Providence 58
Sloppy. That’s really the only way to describe the nightcap between Creighton and Providence.
Creighton handed Providence its 12th loss of the season in what was supposed to be one of the higher-scoring affairs of the entire tournament. Instead, both teams combined to go 8-of-41 from beyond the arc, while shooting 60% or less from the free-throw line.
The final score was 70-58. There were 34 turnovers combined between the two teams.
The first half was fairly close, but Creighton scored the first nine points of the second half and never looked back from there. The Bluejays’ second half run was largely spurred by the 22 turnovers produced by Providence, which they turned into 26 points on the other end. Khyri Thomas of Creighton led all scorers with 19 points.
Providence’s defeat means that the remaining Big East bracket is without three of the top four conference seeds. It’s a testament to how deep and competitive this conference has been throughout the course of the season, and is one of the main reasons why they will likely land seven teams in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since rebranding back in 2013.