NEW YORK – One would be hard-pressed to find a semifinal doubleheader with as much intensity, drama and just general excitement as the one staged Friday at Madison Square Garden. When the final buzzer of the night sounded, Creighton earned its second trip to the finals in their fourth year in conference. Their opponent: last year’s runner-up and top seed Villanova.
Villanova 55, Seton Hall 53
Creighton 75, Xavier 72
In a game with six ties and seven lead changes, Villanova took the last lead on a put-back by Josh Hart. Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado missed from close in at the other end just before the buzzer sounded.
Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart scored all seven Villanova field goals the final twelve minutes of the game. Brunson had four and Hart three, including the lone three-pointer during that stretch.
Rebounding on the part of Seton Hall was a problem for Jay Wright’s Wildcats. The Hall out-rebounded Villanova 38-31 and led 16-7 in second-chance points. The Pirates’ 32-16 advantage on points in the paint was largely due to their board work. Once again, Angel Delgado came up big with eight rebounds, five off the offensive glass.
The Hall struggled their few trips to the line, shooting 4 of 9 including 3 of 6 the final half. As much as Hart’s late-game play was heralded, Wright was quick to credit Eric Paschall for making a big defensive play on Delgado at the end.
Wright also credited the Hall, saying “Kevin Willard had a great game plan and they outplayed us tonight. Seton Hall will present a lot of problems to whomever draws them in the (NCAA) tournament.”
Creighton shot 18 of 25 (72%) the decisive second half. Seven of nine (78%) were from beyond the arc. That outstanding performance allowed them to wipe out a six-point halftime deficit. “We tried to go zone a little bit,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “When a team is shooting that well, I don’t know if our secondary defense is the one going to contain a team shooting that well.”
Creighton also did a nice job getting Justin Patton involved. The seven-foot freshman tied Marcus Parrin for team scoring honors with 21 points. Patton also got into the act going one of one from three.
“We spent a good portion of the game digging ourselves out of a whole,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Defensively the second half we were not great, but our fight on the backboards was better.”
The first half Xavier led 10-2 in second chance points. The final twenty minutes the advantage went to Creighton 5-4.
After Creighton missed a one and one, JP Macura of Xavier tied the game with a three-pointer with 15 seconds left. On the final possession, Marcus Foster of Creighton, cool and calm, ended it with a deep three of his own.
Josh Hart, Villanova: 19 points – Almost forgotten as the scoring leader given his late game finish.
JP Macura, Xavier: 22 points – Shot 7 of 16, including 6 of 11 from three for the musketeers.
On a second appearance in the finals in four seasons in the league: “It is a testament to the people in that locker room. The players and my coaching staff are the ones responsible.” – Creighton coach Greg McDermott