It’s been a year since the last Big East Baller Update, and with it comes conference games that were thrilling, entertaining and downright fun to watch. As the following contests proved, the Big East runs college hoops, even with the SEC dominating the field in college football.
There’s a full slate of Big East basketball games to cover, so let’s not dilly-dally and get right into it.
Writer’s Note: It may be the middle of the season, but I am missing UConn basketball dearly.
Player of the Week: Collin Gillespie – Villanova
Freshman of the Week: Simas Lukosius – Butler
No. 15 Seton Hall vs. No. 21 Providence (Dec. 29): Ranked Rumble
They’ve met over 100 times, but their most recent contest was the first ever in which both teams were ranked. Seton Hall entered the contest having not played since Dec. 12 because of COVID-19 issues, while Providence had won six in a row. Two teams with one loss each made this a classic almost immediately.
Both teams traded the lead on every possession. Contrary to popular belief, shots were not falling like raindrops because the defense caused several scoring droughts. Providence closed out the half on a 19-5 run, which included scoring 17 straight points in almost four minutes and took a 36-27 lead into the break. Seton Hall had no answer for Noah Horchler, whose locks of hair are just as majestic as his three-point shooting.
After being stymied for over ten minutes, Seton Hall nearly came back in the final minute. Jared Bynum and Nate Watson missed shots, and Alexis Yetna made a jumper to make it a 3-point game. Despite free throws from Al Durham, Myles Cale made a layup to give Seton Hall one more chance. However, Seton Hall had to foul, and it allowed Providence to take free throws and win 70-65.
Providence’s veterans were the difference, especially Horchler who had 17 points on five threes. Watson picked up 14 and Bynum got 14 off the bench for Providence. Jared Rhoden collected 10 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double while Yetna netted one of his own with 13 points and 11 rebounds. If these two teams are ranked when they meet again in New Jersey, the stakes will be very different, especially with both teams at full health.
Creighton vs. Marquette (Jan. 1): The Biggest Game of the Year (for about seven hours)
To the average college basketball viewer, this is what some would consider a “middle-tier” game. To the Big East fans, this is the definition of a Midwest rivalry. After 40 minutes of play, both types of viewers would say this was the best game of 2022 until the Rose Bowl that would occur hours later.
Creighton took control of the first half thanks to Ryan Hawkins and Ryan Kalkbrenner, entering the break up by six points. It was them and Alex O’Connell that made sure that lead would be maintained in the second half as they led by as much as 17.
Marquette then shut out Creighton for a four-minute stretch. Oso Ighodaro helped by containing the Blue Jays throughout the second half and tied the contest twice in a 40-second span. Marquette could not close out the game as Justin Lewis missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer to send this game into overtime.
Marquette was in control for most of the overtime period, and it was the defense, notably Lewis, coming up with huge blocks. Alex O’Connell went to the free throw line with 20 seconds left to cut the lead down to one before having to draw a foul.
In a normal game, Tyler Kolek made free throws to secure a Marquette victory, but this was not a normal game. O’Connell received the inbound pass with three seconds left, weaved around the defense, and hit a shot from downtown at the buzzer to send this game into another overtime period, shushing the crowd amid Blue Jay celebrations.
Lewis made a jumper 22 seconds into the second overtime, but the Golden Eagles were shut out the remainder of the game as Hawkins and Kalkbrenner assisted O’Connell in silencing the Marquette offense in a 75-69 victory.
Both teams utilized their defenses and offenses, but the Bluejays had a better handle on the game. Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 12 rebounds for Creighton while Hawkins scored 18 with 12 boards. O’Connell finished with 17. Marquette’s Ighodaro picked up 22 from the bench while Darryl Morsell had 13 points. Lewis finished one point shy of a double-double while grabbing 12 rebounds. With this win, Creighton is unofficially back, and they proved it in a surefire candidate for Game of the Year.
No. 22 Villanova vs. No. 15 Seton Hall (Jan. 1): It’s always you two, isn’t it?
For some odd reason, when there’s a close game in the Big East, the most common teams involved are Villanova and Seton Hall. Does it have to do with their talent pool over the last 10 years or the grit each team brings to their conference showdowns? No one knows the answer to that, but we do know that these two forces collided to kick off 2022 and, as expected, did not disappoint.
It wasn’t close to start, as Seton Hall netted one field goal in the first six minutes while Villanova made four. Seton Hall would inch back and take the lead over the next seven minutes. Jamir Harris, who gave the Pirates the lead, was also responsible for the last Seton Hall field goal in the first half as the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run to take a three-point lead at the half.
The offenses would come alive to start the second half. Villanova was looking to ice the game as they went on an 8-0 run, but Seton Hall did not go down without a fight. Multiple times, they were either down by one or leading by one. Justin Moore made a layup with 96 seconds left for the last field goal of the game. The final minute alone had 19 free throw attempts. The Wildcats used theirs to pull away, but the Pirates made several to cut the lead down to two points. Out of those 19 free throws, Villanova made 11 and it helped them win 73-67.
Free throws may have slowed the game’s conclusion, but it didn’t impede Collin Gillespie nor Aiken from scoring 20 points apiece. Brandon Slater had 17 for Villanova while Moore picked up 13. Seton Hall got support from Rhoden’s 13 and Harris’ 12 points. When it comes to close games, these two are a dynamic duo. If anyone in the country were playing against them in a close game, chances are the duo would win.
Honorable mention: DePaul vs. Butler (Dec. 29): Shaking off the cobwebs
Neither team had played in over 10 days due to COVID-19 issues outside of their programs, and with that much time off between games, one would think that there would be rust in the gameplans of each player and coach alike. What we got instead was a scrappy fight from start to finish with both teams realizing both their strengths and weaknesses.
Butler dominated the first half, leading by as much as 11 behind the masterful performance of Simas Lukosius and a 7-0 run to close out the frame. Both teams got into a scuffle in the middle of the second half, which led to technical fouls on each team while Nick Ongenda got ejected for leaving the bench. This game came down to the final two minutes. Jayden Taylor made a layup with 5:55 to go, but it would be their last field goal of the game as DePaul used their offense and defense to give themselves a chance. Brandon Johnson nearly sent this game into overtime, but his second free throw with four seconds left missed the net and with the help of a Lukosius rebound, Butler escaped with a 63-59 win.
The play calling early on could have shown rust, but neither team demonstrated that throughout the contest. Lukosius had 15 for the Bulldogs while Chuck Harris and Taylor had 13 apiece. Johnson led DePaul with 16 points while Freeman-Liberty had 13. It may have been weeks since their last games, but they both proved why they did well in non-conference play. Hopefully, neither team will have to wait more than four days to play their next game the rest of the season.
It was a wild week for the Big East as most of the games that were scheduled to happen actually happened. Hopefully, there should be no more COVID-19 issues after this week, but that will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Until then, there’s still nine weeks left and plenty of opportunities for each of the 11 teams to prove themselves in the Big East conference.