Around the Big East: Big East Baller Update No.2

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To the basketball fans out there, happy holidays, and happy new year. Finally 2020 is ending, but not before some Big East basketball can go down. After multiple weeks of both conference and non-conference play, let us dive into the top four games ranging from Dec. 2 until Dec. 27.

Please note that Villanova is in a quarantine period. Get well soon head coach and 2021 basketball hall of fame nominee Jay Wright.

Player(s) of the week: 

Zach Freemantle – Xavier (12/2-12/6)
David Duke – Providence (12/7-12/13)
Paul Scruggs – Xavier (12/14-12/20)
Myles Cale – Seton Hall (12/21-12/27)

Rookie(s) of the week: 

Justin Lewis – Marquette (12/2-12/6)
Dante Harris – Georgetown (12/7-12/13)
Posh Alexander – St. John’s (12/14-12/20)
Chuck Harris – Butler (12/21-12/27)

Big East record overall: 56-31


DePaul vs. Providence: A Double OT Offensive Bonanza (Dec. 27)

Providence head coach Ed Cooley shouts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Indianapolis. AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

DePaul basically came out of quarantine and into Big East play. After beating Western Illinois on Dec. 23, the Blue Demons faced a tough challenge against the Providence Friars. But that would not stop them from trying their best. After one half, the Friars were up 34-29, but a 16-6 run by DePaul in the heat of the second half made this game a much closer affair. The true climax of the game came in the final minute of the second half when Romeo Weems, who scored a career-high 21 points, hit a go-ahead three-pointer to give the Blue Demons a one-point advantage. After Charlie Moore made two free throws, DePaul had a reasonable three-point lead until AJ Reeves, who finished with 22 points, hit a game-tying three pointer with six seconds left, only the fourth or fifth three pointer from Providence in the game. Moore tried to win the game, but his three-point shot missed the net just a bit to the left.

The first overtime was, to say the least, intense. Providence had all the leads in the five-minute period, but DePaul found ways to fight back, whether it was a Javon Freeman-Liberty layup or a Pauly Paulicap layup. Providence had opportunities to break the game wide open, but DePaul was not letting up just yet. The second overtime settled the contest as Nate Watson’s crucial dunk with 30 seconds left iced the game and put the dagger in the coffin as the Friars went on to win 95-90 in double overtime, but not before DePaul shot some three-point attempts with less than 25 seconds hoping to at least make the game a one-possession showdown. In addition, there were fouls and free throws and jumpers and layups of all kinds, many sights to behold for a Big East fan. 

As for statistics not already mentioned, David Duke put up 24 points and six assists for the Friars while DePaul’s next best scorer was Moore with 19 points. Watson had a double-double as he garnered 18 points on 14 rebounds. Providence only hit six three-pointers for 26.1% shooting from beyond the arc while DePaul shot 41.7% from the three. DePaul also won field goal percentage (48.7%), assists (18) and blocks (3) while the Friars took charge in rebounds (45) and steals (11). Both teams proved in this game that they are tough opponents to beat.

No. 4 Wisconsin vs. Marquette: A Cheesy Ending (Dec. 4)

Wisconsin’s Micah Potter dunks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Like the Athletics-Giants in the MLB, this is a rivalry that seems underrated, but never disappoints their in-state fans. That is the case for the state of Wisconsin, where the then No. 4 Badgers squared off with the Golden Eagles. In the absence of Markus Howard, Marquette relied on DJ Carton to become the next efficient Marquette scorer, however, this game was defined by freshman Justin Lewis, who finished with 18 points. Despite leading at the half by five, Marquette had to fight tooth and nail to defeat Wisconsin as both teams exchanged leads and ties throughout the majority of the second half. The game was put in the record books when Lewis rebounded a missed free throw by Carton and got the shot off in time and into the net to give the Golden Eagles a statement win by a score of 67-65 against Wisconsin. The Golden Cheese (yes, I made that trophy up) would stay in Milwaukee for another year.

Carton, who finished with 12 points that evening, described Lewis’ game winner as “a big-time player making a big-time play. I’m very proud of him for getting my back.” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski praised Lewis for his “foresight to be ready to try and make a play if he did miss is incredible … but especially for a freshman.” This game did not have much defensively, with Marquette converting 42.9% of all their field goals and going 5-14 beyond the arc. Wisconsin did show up on the free throw line, converting 84.2% of their free throws and rebounding 36 times compared to the Eagles’ 34. Again, this rivalry is underrated, and the stars come out to play every time these two teams go head-to-head.

 No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 5 Kansas: Flock of Ages (Dec. 8)

The Creighton bench cheers at the end of second half of an NCAA college basketball game against St. John’s, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

This showdown should have been taken to the skies to be settled as the most important game in the Big East-Big 12 challenge did not disappoint. Kansas was leading by four at the half, but they had not been leading the whole game. That narrative continued well into the night as the Blue Jays and Jayhawks exchanged blows in a top-10 game that would define which program was going to be more successful. This game had everything, an 11-0 run by Kansas, an 0-8 shooting slump by Creighton, massive turnover problems in the second half and minutes spent failing to score. Like most intense games, the decision ultimately came down to the final two minutes of the game. What started as a 68-65 lead for Kansas became a potential runaway after a Marcus Garrett layup, two Denzel Mahoney field goals to tie the game, then a clutch Jalen Wilson three-pointer to give the Jayhawks the lead. Wilson, who finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, unfortunately fouled Marcus Zegarowski when he tried to land a three-point shot. Zegarowski, the preseason Big East Player of the Year who recorded 16 points, made two of the three free throw attempts, the third of which would have tied the game. 

The heart thumping situation was taken quite calmly by Wilson, who commented afterward that “I just had a lot of confidence in myself. My team has a lot of confidence in me.” On the other end, Creighton coach Greg McDermott pointed out, “it was a hell of a college basketball game and kind of unfortunate that someone had to lose.” Despite this ranked loss by Creighton, the Blue Jays did make 48.2% of their shots, shooting nearly 10% better than Kansas. The Blue Jays also saw Denzel Mahoney lead the team with 19 points. Kansas did succeed in rebounding and stealing, bringing in the ball 41 times from the air and forcing 10 steals. In addition to Wilson’s performance, Christian Braun managed 14 points on four rebounds. If this game proved anything, it was that these two teams look like serious title contenders early in the season, and everyone in the NCAA should look out for these teams in March when they have a legitimate chance to make the Final Four. 

Marquette vs. Xavier: A Fight to the Finish (Dec. 20)

Xavier forward Jason Carter (25) makes a pass to guard Nate Johnson (10) during the first half during an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

It has been said once, it will be said again, the Xavier Musketeers fight to the finish. After weeks and weeks of winning close games, the Musketeers were about to add one more to their impressive resume. In the last minute of the game, Xavier saw a six-point lead vanish when Koby McEwen, who finished with 20 points, nailed a layup, which was followed by Justin Lewis adding one of his own. After two free throws from Jason Carter, who finished with 7 points, McEwen sunk a critical three-pointer, but not before getting fouled by Jason Carter, which meant that Marquette had a four-point opportunity to tie the game. McEwen made the free throw and the game almost looked certain to go into overtime, which was when Adam Kunkel appeared and sunk the buzzer beater to secure a 91-88 victory for the then-undefeated Musketeers. Kunkel’s clutch shot only came after Paul Scruggs, who finished with 29 points, missed a potential game-winner of his own.

Kunkel, who was mobbed by his teammates after hitting the miracle shot, is a transfer student from Belmont who finished that evening with 22 points off the bench. Xavier also got support from Nate Johnson, who wrapped up the evening with 14 points. Marquette also got a 20-point performance from Dawson Garcia while players such as Theo John picked up only 14. Marquette was better at scoring field goals overall, converting 55.2% of them, but Xavier got more success from beyond the three-point line, converting 54.2% of their three-point attempts, including the buzzer beater. Xavier dominated the game defensively, taking 31 rebounds, three blocks, and 10 steals, the latter two of which beat out Marquette by a wide margin. Despite not being ranked at the time of release, both teams are highly underrated and pack a good punch for their Big East foes. No result is a guarantee before tipoff, and these two squads proved why that is the case in this instant classic.

Honorable mention: St. John’s vs. Georgetown (Dec. 13)

St. John’s guard Julian Champagnie shoots against the Creighton defense during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

For the record, both head-to-head matchups have happened already; this is the first. Unlike the second one, this matchup packed more of a punch. In the final 90 seconds of the second half, the Red Storm’s Isaih Moore landed a field goal, which was then followed up by a Hoya three-pointer from Jahvon Blair, that got followed up by Posh Alexander going 1-2 from the free throw line. With nine seconds left, Georgetown’s Donald Carey, who finished with 19 points, made a layup that could have been the winner if not for a Greg Williams Jr. layup in the last possible second of the game. That two-pointer tied the game and sent the surprisingly close contest to overtime. In the extra period, there were free throws galore, with the Red Storm going 2-4 from the line and the Hoyas going 7-8 in the same spot. Georgetown was able to convert on more of these opportunities and they managed to take a 97-94 victory in overtime against the surging Red Storm. 

Williams Jr. finished with 13 points, but it was Moore who led the way with a 26-point 14-rebound double-double performance for the Red Storm. Georgetown was led by Dante Harris’ 22 points and Blair’s 20 points while Qudus Wahab finished a block away from a triple double as he added 17 points on 10 rebounds. Georgetown had an offensive advantage from start to finish, getting ahead in free throw percentage (75%), field goal percentage (54%), and three-point percentage (47.8%). St. John’s did get ahead on the defensive side though despite surrendering 97 points as they got 45 rebounds and 12 steals as a team. Although the second matchup, a St. John’s win, was nowhere near as close as this, this matchup showed that both teams have a lot more to prove beyond this single overtime game. Look for them to mess around with the conference records of other teams in the future.

So, there are the top five games that occurred over most of December. I look forward to what 2021 will bring in terms of college basketball and college sports in general, but until then, we have these memories to relish and scheduled games to motivate us. Although having played one game in this timespan, UConn is surely taking notice of these Big East opponents and looks to get back on track after a 10-day break period in their schedule. The Big East is an interesting conference though and anything can happen. Until next year, this has been a Big East Baller Update.

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