By Kevin Sweeney
Isaiah Whitehead had 26 points, including a huge 3-point play with 18 seconds to play, to help Seton Hall earn a 69-67 win over Villanova Saturday night in the Big East Championship Game at Madison Square Garden. The win gives Seton Hall their first Big East title since 1993 and their first NCAA tournament berth since 2006.
After a hot start helped the Pirates to an upset over Xavier last night, Seton Hall ran out to yet another flying start to take momentum right away. Villanova sustained the first Seton Hall push, but the Pirates began to break away during the middle stages of the half. A 13-4 run culminated by a 3 by senior guard Derrick Gordon gave the Pirates a 32-21 lead with 5:14 to go in the first period. Seton Hall extended their lead to 12 by the end of the half, putting the top-seeded Wildcats on upset alert.
However, Villanova quickly cut into their deficit in the second half, as another 3 by Kris Jenkins, who knocked down 5 triples on the night, evened the score at 50 with just under 10 minutes to play. The teams traded punches for the next few minutes, with Villanova earning their first lead of the half on another 3 by Jenkins with 52 seconds to go. Whitehead just wouldn’t go away, finishing an impossible 3-point play through contact to give the Pirates a 1 point lead with just 18 seconds to go. Villanova had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds, but were unable to capitalize, and it was Seton Hall’s turn to celebrate.
“When I wake up tomorrow, it’ll probably hit me. But I’m just enjoying the feeling right now. It’s amazing.” a jubilant Isaiah Whitehead said. “It’s like picture perfect.”
Both teams are in position to earn good seeds in the Big Dance. The Pirates should be in the 4-6 range in terms of seeding. The Wildcats still have a chance for a 1 seed, but may drop down to the 2 line with today’s loss.