Road warriors Nova, Creighton stay hot

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Creighton forward Damien Jefferson (23) makes a layup against Connecticut forward Isaiah Whaley (5) and guard Tyrese Martin (4) in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

Team of the week: St John’s 
Best performance of the week: Mitch Ballock vs. Seton Hall 
Game of the week: Providence vs. Georgetown 

Prior to the start of the 2020-21 college basketball season, it was clear that there was a clear hierarchy in terms of the power and influence in the Big East: Villanova and Creighton, then everyone else. Both Jay Wright and Greg McDermott led their respective schools into Seton Hall and took care of the Pirates this week, who have been struggling to find a way to fill the massive void left by Myles Powell’s departure.  

After giving up 54 points in the first half, the Bluejays stormed back from 15 down in the second half and made 17 of 35 3-pointers to win, punctuated by a game-ending 14-2 run to stun the Pirates in Newark. Takal Molson tied it for Seton Hall on a layup with just under a minute to go. However, it was the junior from Kansas, Mitch Ballock, who took control when it mattered, draining his seventh 3-pointer to put Creighton ahead for good. This was the biggest deficit Creighton has faced in a game since 2014, a year in which they finished the regular season 24-6. It took Creighton more than 20 minutes to take the lead and hold on. Clutch and effective free throw shooting helped seal the victory, as the 17th ranked team in the nation shot 85% from the charity stripe. This, partnered with a dagger from Ballock to bring his total for the game to 29 points, carried Coach McDermott’s squad to the victory. Despite strong performances from Myles Cale (20 points) and Bryce Aiken (21 pts), the Pirates failed to protect their home court. After not leading in the second half until there was 1:07 remaining, the gutsy performance put on by Creighton loudly displayed how long this team has been waiting to excel on a national level. After being a mid-major school historically, this team is ready to go and built for March. 

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Later in the week, Villanova went up 10 points at the half on the same Seton Hall squad and did not look back. Led by the scoring efforts of Jerimiah Robinson-Earl (23 points) and the passing of star Collin Gillepsie (11 points, 11 assists), the Wildcats got their offense going early and often, going up 37-21 towards the end of the first twenty minutes. While Seton Hall weathered the storm slightly, they could not close the gap enough to pull off the upset at home. Four Pirates starters scored in double figures, with junior guard Jared Rhoden (12 points) pouring in four 3-pointers in 29 minutes before fouling out. Jay Wright’s squad continues to roll, pushing their winning streak to nine as they take on St. John’s on Feb. 3 in Queens. 

St John’s pushes win streak to four, underclassmen continue to impress 

In his second year at the helm, St. John’s coach Mike Anderson is determined to restore competitive basketball to New York City. After barely going over .500 last season prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Anderson has his Red Storm at 10-7 and hot on the pursuit to sneak their way into March Madness.  

After handling out-of-conference opponent Utah Valley this past weekend, the Johnnies took care of business in Chicago, beating DePaul by a baker’s dozen, 81-68. It was a balanced attack for St. John’s, with four players scoring more than 15 points. The first half was offensive domination, as the Red Storm put up 49 points en route to constructing a 15-point cushion at the half. From that point, Vince Cole (18 points), Julian Champagnie (16 pts) and Posh Alexander (15 pts, 6 rbs, 5 asts) held on in the second half to close down a double-digit road victory.  

On Sunday, the Storm took their talents to Milwaukee, where they met a struggling Marquette squad and looked to pull away early, similar to their performance in their previous outing. It looked like “Groundhog Day” for Coach Anderson in company, as they built a 15 point lead for the second consecutive game. 

However, the Golden Eagles would not go away in the second half, cutting the lead all the way down to a single point several times; they outscored St. John’s 42-29 in the second half. Only the members of the starting five would score for Marquette, with freshman forward Dawson Garcia leading the way with 20 points. However, timely defense from another stud freshman, Posh Alexander, and an offensive clinic from Justin Champagnie that saw the 6-foot-8 guard make four 3-pointers and go perfect from the line (4-4) to keep up the momentum created by the Red Storm. Champagnie almost threw the game away, but St. John’s experience began to show, as senior guard Rasheem Dunn took the ball away from DJ Carton, sealing the hard-fought road victory. 

A real test will come for the Red Storm to make some national noise as they host No. 3 Villanova at home on Wednesday night, with a chance to define their season and help build their resume with building block wins that will draw the attention of the committee in the weeks leading up to the big dance.  

 A Tale of Two Friars 

After an above average 2019-2020 campaign, Ed Cooley and his Providence Friars have looked to carry the momentum over into this season. Returning star guard and dark horse conference player of the year candidate David Duke for his junior season and one final ride for big man Nate Watson, Providence had decently high expectations rolling into this season, with various outlets forecasting a top four or five finish in a highly competitive Big East. Through 10 games, it appeared that the Friars were moving in the right direction, kicking off their season with a 7-3 record. However, since the start of 2021, Providence has dropped five out of its last seven, breaking their New Year’s resolution to keep the momentum going. In one of their two wins, the Friars went into Omaha and upset Crieghton, despite a 2-for-11 shooting night from Duke. On the back of Watson’s 29 and key scoring outputs Alyn Breed and Jimmy Nichols Jr., Providence pulled off the upset last week 74-70.  

This week saw more of the same inconsistent nature from Providence, that jump started with a tough overtime victory at home against Marquette on Jan. 27. After holding the Golden Eagles to only 18 first half points to maintain a seven- point lead at the half, Providence gave the momentum and lead right back in the final 20 minutes, allowing Marquette to tie the game on a Theo John dunk with 50 seconds to go and ultimately send the game to overtime. 

However, Providence never trailed in the extra period, outscoring Marquette 13-4 and getting revenge on the Golden Eagles by winning the game 72-63. The Friars protected their home court with a relentless defensive effort that saw their opponent go more than half of the period without recording a single point. Duke showed why he belongs in the conference player of the year discussion, scoring six of his game-high 31 points in overtime, more than Marquette’s entire team during  the period. Clutch free throws and a steal with 10 seconds left put Duke’s talent on full display and reversed his poor shooting performance against Creighton.  

Unfortunately for Duke, Cooley and company, the thrill of victory this week was short-lived, as the Friars fell to an inferior Georgetown Hoyas squad this past weekend. After closing the game on the offensive and defensive end just days prior, Duke again struggled from the field, shooting 2-for-11 for the game, failing to aid a heroic performance from AJ Reeves, who poured in 28 points and connected on 6-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc.  

After a Duke slam with 2:16 to go to put Providence up 69-68, the Friars wasted multiple possessions and did not score until there were six seconds left in the game, when Breed made a layup that brought his squad to within one. Despite a late foul from Georgetown’s Chudier Bile, lightning could not strike twice for Providence; Duke missed the second of two free throws with a second to play in regulation, as the Friars fell 73-72. Bile led the way for the Hoyas (4-8, 2-5 BE) off the bench with a 19 point, nine-rebound performance that saw him shoot and make more free throws than the entire Providence team. This was aided by Nate Watson fouling out with just over three minutes to play, as the Friars’ big man struggled with foul trouble throughout the game. 

Providence will be back at home this week, as the Friars host Seton Hall on Wednesday with hopes to sweep the season series. They will conclude with a matchup against St. John’s, the first of the two meetings between these conference opponents. Georgetown starts a home-and-home with a nationally ranked Creighton program, shipping out to Omaha on Wednesday night before battling them in the nation’s capital the following week. 

Games to watch this week: 
Seton Hall @ Providence (2/3) 
Villanova @ St John’s (2/3) 
Seton Hall @ Connecticut (2/6) 
St John’s @ Providence (2/6) 
Creighton @ Marquette (2/6) 

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