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Villanova and Creighton escape with narrow victories in Big East semifinals

A thrilling night at the Garden, with old and new Big East teams providing the glory.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Seton Hall vs Villanova Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

If you are a Big East Basketball or college basketball fan in general, tonight’s Big East Tournament semifinal games certainly left you anxiously anticipating tomorrow night’s title game. Friday night’s semifinal round began with Seton Hall and Villanova at 6:30 PM, followed by Xavier and Creighton at 9 PM.

Both games turned out to be instant Big East Tournament classics, making it very difficult for fans to leave the “World’s Most Famous Arena” and await Championship Saturday.

Seton Hall vs Villanova

If you thought last year’s Big East Tournament Championship game between Seton Hall and Villanova was a great game, you’re going to need a much better word to describe how incredible this year’s semifinals matchup was between these two teams.

Last year’s matchup between these two teams ended with Seton Hall being crowned as champions, outdueling the Wildcats 69-67, behind a stellar performance from current Brooklyn Nets guard Isaiah Whitehead. Villanova would get their Big East Tournament revenge on the Seton Hall Pirates, winning 55-53 in a hard-fought game led by one of the game’s national stars, Josh Hart.

The last time two teams that met in the Big East Tournament championship game the previous year and went on to play again the following year was in 2008 when Georgetown and Pittsburgh squared off in the 2007 and 2008 title games.

Seton Hall controlled the majority of the first half of tonight’s game, leading the Wildcats 27-20 at the half, containing Villanova to just 7-26, (26%) from the field. Villanova trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half and was only the third time the Wildcats trailed going into halftime all season.

The second half began with some incredible back-and-forth scoring from both teams. Villanova’s Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson started to get hot from the floor to get Villanova back in the game. The Wildcats took their first lead in the game at the 9:18 mark in the 2nd half when Josh Hart went on to slam an emphatic dunk and make it a 41-40 contest. Seton Hall did everything they could in order to keep the Wildcats from taking control of this game and keeping the Villanova-dominant crowd quiet.

The Pirates led for 34 minutes in the ball game, but unfortunately for Pirates fans, it wasn’t enough to get their team into tomorrow’s championship matchup with Creighton.

With 9.6 seconds left in the game, Josh Hart would make a crucial, potential game-winning putback layup as he was fouled from behind to give the Wildcats a 55-53 lead. Hart would miss his one free throw which was rebounded by Myles Powell. Powell would rush down the court to feed the ball down low to Angel Delgado who had a prime opportunity to tie the game at 55, but his under-the-basket attempt would not fall in as Josh Hart grabbed the last rebound of the game as the clock expired.

So what did we learn from both teams?

Seton Hall can be a scary matchup for any team they draw in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They will need their leaders, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington to put up their consistent season numbers in their first round game.

For Villanova, the sky is the limit for the Wildcats. Villanova can lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a win in the Big East Championship game on Saturday. The Wildcats, led by Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, and Kris Jenkins, can make it back-to-back Final Four appearances this year if they continue to play team basketball and gut out close wins just like tonight.

Xavier vs Creighton

Semifinals night continued Friday night with another premier showcase of Big East schools in No. 7 seed Xavier Musketeers and No. 6 Creighton Blue Jays. Last night’s game marked Xavier’s fourth straight semifinals appearance in a row in their four year history as a member of the Big East Conference.

Xavier junior All-America candidate and recently named First Team All-Big East for the second straight year, Trevon Blueitt, has been the catalyst all year for the Musketeers and tonight he finished with 18 points. Fellow Musketeers teammate JP Macura finished with 22 points, off of 7/16 shooting.

At the half, the Xavier Musketeers led the Creighton Blue Jays 37-31 behind Macura’s 9 first half points.

The second half of this game was as back-and-forth and just as intense as the first semifinal game of the night. Both teams traded baskets all the way to the 3 minute mark of the 2nd Half. The Blue Jays and Musketeers were all square at 67 apiece when Marcus Foster hit a crucial 3 pointer to give Creighton a 70-67 lead.

The score would be 72-69 in favor of Creighton with 30.4 seconds left to play when Xavier fouled Cole Huff to put him on the charity stripe. Cole would miss the first free throw and Xavier would quickly drive down the court, find Trevon Blueitt for a 3 point shot and he drilled it.

The score was level at 72 with 9 seconds left. Creighton point guard Marcus Foster decided not hesitate down the floor as he took matters into his own hands. He would take a desperation 3-pointer that would find its way through the bottom of the net with 6 seconds left to play.

Down 75-72, Xavier’s JP Macura would hustle his way down the court to give his team one last chance to tie the game but his shot would fall short, giving the Blue Jays a 3 point victory and their second Big East finals appearance in four years as a member of the conference.

So what did we learn from Creighton and Xavier?

Xavier’s two Big East Conference tournament wins over DePaul and Butler should be enough to get the Musketeers into the NCAA Tournament. However, if the Musketeers make the Big Dance, they will certainly have a tough first round matchup next week. They are strong enough as a team to get a first-round win if Trevon Blueitt and JP Macura can make big shots down the stretch.

As for Creighton, we know Creighton is at its best when point guard Marcus Foster and freshman forward Justin Patton are leading the way for the Blue Jays. Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Creighton Blue Jays will hope to be the first 6 seed champion in the Big East Tournament since the 1981 Syracuse Orange.

Either Villanova or Creighton will be crowned champion of the 2017 Big East Tournament. Tonight’s night’s championship game will be brought to you by Fox Sports 1 at 5:30 PM ET.