Around the Big East: Big East Baller Update No. 4

After 27 days off due to COVID concerns, the Villanova Wildcats returned in grand style. Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright, center left, talks things over with his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Providence, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Villanova, Pa. Photo courtesy of Chris Szagola /AP Photo.

Football fans, do you need something fun and exciting to watch until the Super Bowl? Why not Big East basketball? It has the intensity of playoff football almost every time, and it is never over until the final whistle. In fact, this conference has teams that are like the Chiefs and Buccaneers in their style of play and veteran coaches. Watch the games and figure out who can relate to who, but until then, here are some close games from the past week. 

Writer’s Note: Butler survived a COVID-19 scare with a false positive while Xavier and Georgetown kept on postponing games. 

Player of the Week: 

Jermaine Samuels – Villanova 

Rookie of the Week: 

Posh Alexander – St. John’s 

Seton Hall vs. Villanova (Jan. 19): A long-awaited return 

After 27 days off due to COVID concerns, the Villanova Wildcats returned in grand style. Takal Molson’s layup with less than a minute to go tied things up at 74, and it looked like the game was going to go into overtime. But, he got fouled trying to rebound in the final second of the game. The look on Sandro Mamukelashvili could only describe the heartbreak the Pirates were about to face. They got lucky as Cole Swider missed the first free throw, but he made the second to give Villanova the lead. After a back-and-forth combination, Shavar Reynolds got fouled and Villanova went back to the line. This time, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl went 1-for-2 from the charity line that, in addition to a missed three-pointer by Mamukelashvili, was enough to give the Wildcats a 76-74 win in a critical conference game.  

After the game, Villanova coach Jay Wright commented that “We’re really grateful just to be able to be playing. We would have been upset after a loss, but not as upset as you normally are after a loss”. 

In their return, the stars came out to play. Collin Gillespie finished with 22 points and Samuels earned 20 off of the bench, nearly having a double-double with nine rebounds as well. As for the Pirates, Molson finished with four points, but Mamukelashvili had 23 points on nine rebounds and Jared Rhoden finished with 19 points. Both teams were incredible from three-point range, shooting around 40% throughout the game while both teams also found the bucket well, doing so on over 45% of their shots. These are two teams with incredible upside, and if this game proved anything, they could easily meet again in the later rounds of the conference tournament. 

Creighton guard Marcus Zegarowski (11) makes a layup next to Providence forward Jimmy Nichols Jr. (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Omaha, Neb. Zegarowski returned after two games due to injury to put up 17 points, but his efforts were not enough as the Blue Jays were upset for the second straight game by Providence. Photo courtesy of John Peterson / AP Photo.

Providence vs. Creighton (Jan. 20): The big Zegarowski spoiler 

Marcus Zegarowski returned after two games due to injury to put up 17 points, but his efforts were not enough as the Blue Jays were upset for the second straight game by Providence. The Friars were up by 13 early in the second half, but the Blue Jays were not going to get blown out of the water as they responded with a 15-4 run over a ten-minute span. The teams did not swap leads as Providence led for the entire half, but Creighton made sure the Friars could not pull away, as a Mitch Ballock layup cut the lead to two with a minute to go. 

Over the next 40 seconds, David Duke would hit a 3-pointer and Nate Watson would add two more on free throws to give Providence a solid seven-point advantage, but two shots by Damien Jefferson and a Zegarowski 3-pointer cut the lead to two points again. Creighton had a chance to escape this game with a win, but a foul by Christian Bishop and two free throws by Duke put the game away as the Friars won 74-70 to split the season series. 

Watson, who had a career game with 29 points, commented afterwards that “I most definitely was aggressive.” In addition, Duke, Jimmy Nicholls Jr. and AJ Breed all finished in double figures for the Friars. As for Creighton, Zegarowski’s performance got company from Damien Jefferson’s 26 points as well as Bishop’s 12. Both teams were missing from beyond the arc all game, with Creighton notably finishing 17.4% from three. There were a lot of rebounds too, as Providence had 42 and Creighton had 34. Like Seton Hall and Villanova, these teams have a lot of potential and are going to be tough opponents to face down the stretch. Look out. 

DePaul vs. Marquette (Jan. 23): The effects of Lake Michigan 

DePaul had not won a conference game on the road  since 2016, but now, say no more. Despite an 11-point lead for the Blue Demons in the second half, the Golden Eagles were not going to get embarrassed at home. However, before Marquette could say “Fly Eagles Fly,” DePaul made some critical free throws in the last 25 seconds leading by only three points that helped the Blue Demons hang on as they won by a score of 68-61.  

DePaul’s main man in this game was Charlie Moore, who went 10-for-10 from the free throw line and finished with 21 points. He also got help from Javon-Freeman Liberty, who finished with 19 points. Marquette was led by DJ Carton, who put on another show with 23 points while Dawson Garcia, the potential Rookie of the Year, was limited to three points. This was the Blue Demons’ game from the beginning, as they made 41.1% of their shots to Marquette’s 35.5%. Free throws are what helped DePaul win this game, as they went 17-for-24 as a team. Both teams are under-the-radar competitors that can sneak up from behind, leading others to be wary before and during the game. Take note. 

Especially with all the postponements involved, this was a short week for Big East Basketball. But, that does not mean it was not a good week. St. John’s beat Utah Valley and Villanova picked up where they left off. The Big East is nearing a “makeup” period for games, so be on the lookout for some critical rescheduled matches. 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of John Peterson / AP Photo.

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