It’s starting to feel like 2016.
A superstar taking over. A confident supporting cast getting better by the game. A once-precarious NCAA Tournament spot no longer in doubt.
Third-seeded Seton Hall is one win away from matching the Isaiah Whitehead-led group as Big East Tournament champions after Friday night’s rousing and contentious 81-79 semifinal victory over No. 2 seed Marquette at a sold-out Garden that included a scuffle midway through the second half and three ejections.
Myles Powell has played the role of Whitehead, scoring 18 of his 22 points in the second half after setting a Big East Tournament record for most points in a half with 29 on Thursday against Georgetown. The Pirates refused to go away, rallying from 12 down in the first half, and surviving the ejection of starter Sandro Mamukelashvili. Michael Nzei, Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill all fouled out in what became a foul-fest down the stretch with seven technical fouls and 85 free throw attempts. There were also words exchanged after the game between the two teams.
The Pirates nearly blew a six-point lead with under a minute left, in part due to freshmen Jared Rhoden missing a wide-open dunk and getting called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim. But after Shavar Reynolds made one free throw with 7.2 seconds left, Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard missed a would-be game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending the Pirates back to the Big East Tournament final.
Emotions were already high, the pro-Seton Hall crowd upset with the officials following technical fouls on coach Kevin Willard and Mamukelashvili when the evening took a dramatic turn. Seton Hall was down 53-50 when Powell was fouled hard out of bounds by Marquette forward Theo John. A skirmish ensued. Three players — Mamukelashvili, John and Marquette’s Sacar Anim — were ejected. Powell thought he had been ejected as well and went into locker room. But he was called for a flagrant foul, not a second technical foul.
Moments later, he was back on the floor, receiving a thunderous ovation. Powell had four fouls, and Willard didn’t immediately insert him into the game. But after a Howard 3-point pushed the Marquette lead to six with 10:04 left, Powell was back, and he immediately made his presence felt. He hit consecutive 3-pointers to give Seton Hall a 64-63 lead with 6:33 to go, and the lead went to five after a Quincy McKnight jumper with 4:13 left.
The first half was about the role players. Powell scored just four points on 1-of-5 shooting. Howard hurt his left wrist and missed all six of his shot attempts in 13 minutes. But each team’s supporting cast played well. The Hauser brothers, Sam and Joey, combined for 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, helping Marquette double up Seton Hall, 24-12, early. Mamukelashvili and Nzei were active in the paint for the Pirates, combining for 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Pirates’ defense kept them close over the first 20 minutes even as they shot 37 percent from the field and made only 3-of-14 3-point attempts. The Pirates forced nine Marquette turnovers and defended the 3 well, limiting the Golden Eagles to 4-of-13 shooting from deep. McKnight fueled a first half-closing 12-5 run that sent Seton Hall into intermission down just three, a good spot considering Powell’s subpar half and the team’s off-target shooting.