Thanks to a winter storm that brought freezing rain, snow and ice to the Big East community, the start of February has been just as wild as the start of every calendar year. Not even a full week into the February slate, and there have already been wild results and wilder plays.
In addition, the Big East partnered with the Black Fives Era to celebrate Black History Month with teams wearing a shirts with the name and logo of a Black Fives team that defined basketball’s history before the National Basketball Association. With that in mind, let’s get into the games.
Writer’s Note: The Black Fives and Big East Collaboration is cool, and it should be an annual tradition.
Player of the Week: Jared Bynum – Providence
Freshman of the Week: Trey Alexander – Creighton
No. 15 Providence vs. St. John’s (Feb. 1): The High Scoring Carnesecca Clash
The Vandal Athletic Club was an elite basketball team located in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Their caged court (literally) created the perfect environment for their physical style. The St. Christopher Club dominated the streets of Harlem in the 1910s. They used their scientific techniques to develop a winning culture.
The Vandals (Providence) went up eight at the break behind several three-point shots, finding an answer every time the St. C’s (St. John’s) scored. As the minutes wound down, a 10-point lead turned into both teams exchanging the lead on layups and jumpers, just like the rivalries of the past.
The contest could have swung either way in the final minute. Providence made it a six-point game with 26 seconds to go before St. John’s halved that lead seven seconds later. Following two more free throws, St. John’s made it a two-point game with 13 seconds left. Still not done, Posh Alexander made a huge bucket with five seconds remaining, but with the Johnnies having to foul, Providence survived 86-82.
Both teams made over 40% of their 50+ shot attempts. Providence had the upper hand led by Jared Bynum’s 19 off the bench and Nate Watson’s 16. Alexander dropped 29 for the Johnnies while Aaron Wheeler had 16. This was the second meeting between both teams, and offense led the way both times.
No. 12 Villanova vs. No. 22 Marquette (Feb. 2): NFC South Tom Brady
Tom Brady spent his last two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and with star players at every key position. By contrast, Villanova did not add a transfer, but thanks to business executive Jay Wright and his superstars, the Wildcats continue to be a title contender. On the other side, Marquette was like the Saints, a talented team led by a legendary coach playing in a big basketball market and bigger football state.
When the Saints and Buccaneers clashed over the last two seasons, the Saints never made it close. Marquette did the same thing as they catapulted to a 14-point halftime lead. The second half was a little closer, but scoring droughts aside, Marquette’s offense cooked up the perfect storm with a 16-7 run in six minutes to shut down any chances the Wildcats had at winning. Marquette did not make a field goal in the final four minutes as they rolled to an 83-73 series-sweeping victory.
Marquette shot almost 54% from the field and Justin Lewis was that guy, picking up 19 points while Tyler Kolek had 18 right behind him. Brandon Slater dropped 18 while Collin Gillespie had 16 for the Wildcats. Like Brady, Villanova could not get past that one pesky opponent this time. But unlike Brady’s Tampa Bay era, the Wildcats may get over the hump next regular season.
Butler vs. No. 21 Xavier and DePaul vs. No. 21 Xavier (Feb. 2 and Feb. 5): No SpaceX for blowouts
If Xavier was a stock market and close games were their currency, then the recent stretch of conference games caused their market to rise tremendously.
It started with a midweek matchup against the Butler Bulldogs, a team they beat handedly the first time. Xavier was in control early; however, not even an 8-0 run kept the Bulldogs at bay. Butler tied the game for a split second, but a Jerome Hunter three-pointer gave Xavier the lead going into the break.
Despite everything going Butler’s way in the second half, Xavier did just enough and squeaked out a 68-66 Xavier victory. Zach Freemantle had 23 for Xavier while Paul Scruggs was next in scoring with 9. Butler got 18 each from Taylor and Chuck Harris.
Three days later, they had a rematch against the DePaul Blue Demons, a team they had to fight tooth and nail with to avoid an upset. DePaul could not finish the job with a big lead the first time, so they went up 13 and took a seven-point halftime lead. Xavier kept responding, amassing a sizeable lead before DePaul cruised to a 13-0 run.
The final stretch belonged to two players, DePaul’s Nick Ongenda and Xavier’s Scruggs. Ongenda’s dunk kept DePaul ahead, but Scruggs responded to make it a two-point game. Both made just free throws until Brandon Johnson made two free throws of his own to put DePaul up four. Xavier did everything to get a bucket, but not one shot landed in the final 30 seconds and DePaul upset Xavier 69-65. Scruggs had 21 for Xavier with Jack Nunge scoring 12. Courvoisier McCauley had a career-high 21 off the bench while Jalen Terry had 13 for DePaul.
Win or lose, Xavier will always advocate to take close games to the moon.
The month may be short, but that does not mean there will be no mayhem in the Big East’s conference slate. Every opponent for every team is daunting, and each team will need to bring their A-game if they wish to be declared the victors. Good luck to everyone in the month that follows.