Big East Baller Update No. 3: The Big East goes Feasting 

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Virginia Tech’s Nahiem Alleyne (4) drives to the basket against Xavier’s Nate Johnson (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in New York. Xavier won 59-58. Photo by AP Photo/Adam Hunger.

Thanksgiving break is over and so are the feast week tournaments and invitationals. With each passing day, the Big East prepares for the war of attrition that will occur in conference play. It was a wild week for all the teams as the Big East continued to prove themselves as a power conference. There were several games that were as good as turkey on Thanksgiving. Which ones were those? Find out here. 

Writer’s Note: The No. 17 UConn Huskies had a trip to the Bahamas. Two games in overtime. Two. 

Player of the Week: Adama Sanogo – UConn 

Freshman of the Week: Ryan Nembhard – Creighton 

Seton Hall guard Bryce Aiken (1) fouls Ohio State guard Meechie Johnson Jr. (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla. Photo by AP Photo/Scott Audette

No. 21 Seton Hall vs. Ohio St. (Nov. 22): A Fort Myers Fight 

Seton Hall, ranked for the first time since the 2019-20 season, wanted to prove they were back despite losing key pieces from their last dominant run. The Pirates also wanted to show the nation that the Big Ten is overrated, but this game brought up a great point: not all Big Ten teams are overrated. 

Ohio State has a plethora of talent led by EJ Liddell, and it helped them have a reasonable nine-point lead over the Pirates at one point in the first half. Leads were exchanged like a barter system and both teams pushed back every time. Ohio State was up five at the half and wanted to blow the game out, but Seton Hall closed the gap and tied the game on a layup from Jamir Harris with 14 seconds left in regulation. They left too much time on the clock, however, and Meechie Johnson sunk home the winning shot with two seconds to spare as Ohio State would survive the fight in fort Myers by a score of 79-76. 

Rhoden dominated for the Pirates as he led the way with 29 points while Aiken picked up 16 from the bench in what was otherwise a balanced attack for the Pirates. Liddell helped the Buckeyes out with his 28 points while Ahrens picked up a quiet 17 points. It was not only Johnson and his eight points that won the game for the Buckeyes but also the team’s 50% shooting from deep. The top teams in both the Big Ten and Big East should be worried because both teams pack a dangerous bite to them. 

Virginia Tech’s Sean Pedulla (3) looks to pass around Xavier’s Dwon Odom (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in New York. Xavier won 59-58. Photo by AP Photo/Adam Hunger.

No. 25 Xavier vs. Virginia Tech (Nov. 26): Nathan Jonathanson 

Nate Johnson must have been watching The Last Dance because when his team lost to Iowa St. two days earlier, he probably said, “I took that personally.” Yes, basketball is a team effort, but the contributions of one man changed the game almost the same way Michael Jordan did. 

With the help of Paul Scruggs and Jack Nunge, Xavier led by as much as 11 in a dominant first half. The Hokies took the lead in the second half thanks to a four and a half minute scoring drought by Xavier. All hope seemed lost for Xavier when Keve Aluma made a bucket and drew a foul with the play. He missed the free throw, and it gave Johnson enough time to take a game-winning shot that could be heard all around Brooklyn. Virginia Tech could have won it at the buzzer, but their shot just missed, and the Musketeers split their invitational in Brooklyn with a 59-58 victory. 

Johnson was the star of this game as he put up 30 points while shooting 10-14 from the field. Nunge was the next biggest contributor for Xavier with nine points and 14 rebounds while showing the potential he flashed at Iowa. Hunter Cattoor had 13 points for the Hokies while Nahiem Alleyne led the team with 18 points. Xavier had to strongarm their way through their tipoff with four of their top seven players absent. When they are fully healthy, the Musketeers are a Top 20 team in the country. 

Creighton vs. Southern Illinois (Nov. 22): There almost was trouble in paradise 

If this were last year’s Creighton Blue Jays, I would be very concerned for this team and this program. With this year’s team, however, I still don’t know how to gauge the Blue Jays. They’ve been a team that consistently struggles yet somehow finds ways to pull out the win and this game adds another piece of evidence to that narrative. 

Here’s another narrative: Creighton was struggling to maintain a lead against Southern Illinois. For most of the first half, it looked like Creighton was leading thanks to KeyShawn Feazell and Ryan Nembhard. In the second half, Creighton finally had a comfortable lead, but then the Salukis went on a good run to gain the lead right back, which they held onto until the final seconds of the game. After several missed shots, Marcus Domask tied the game with a layup that swiveled into the net. Following a Blue Jay timeout, Nembhard weaved his way around everyone on the court and slipped in a buzzer-beater that gave Creighton the 66-64 victory and helped them avoid trouble in paradise. 

Nembhard could win Big East Freshman of the Year, and his 12 points showed why. Ryan Kalkbrenner picked up 14 points while Ryan Hawkins scored 13 for the Jays. The Salukis got 14 points apiece from Domask and Lance Jones, who also picked up nine rebounds. The Blue Jays may be the luckiest 5-1 team I have seen in college basketball, but they are still competitive and could give Big East teams a hard time in conference play. 

Unfortunately, the Big East cannot tell the Big Ten they are overrated anymore. Instead, they will try to tell the Big 12 they’re overrated as we inch closer to the Big East-Big 12 Battle. It should be a fun bragging rights showdown, and if this season has taught us anything, no team is guaranteed a victory until the final buzzer sounds.  

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