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St. John’s tables Seton Hall’s NCAA quest in BET Quarterfinals

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Tip Off as St. Johns and Seton Hall Face Off. Image Credit: JD Walker – Stream Punk Entertainment

The best thing to do this time of year is to just keep winning. The Seton Hall Pirates know this, the St. John’s Red Storm know this, every team knows this. Some teams have bigger chips on their shoulders than others, especially in a league like the Big East, which features a full double round robin schedule where each team plays each other twice and the tournament provides a third shot for a grudge match and to settle grievances that have percolated all season making for great storylines during “The Best Week of the Year” as Fox Sports’ John Fanta called this tournament. An annual feast at the Mecca of College Basketball which is the longest running postseason tournament in one location in the history of the sport and will remain there for years to come. 

As for the Johnnies, they have been up and down all season, but arguably hit rock bottom after coughing up a big lead against Seton Hall on February 18 which seemed to break coach Rick Pitino and caused his infamous tirade against his own team and St. John’s less than stellar on campus facilities. Since then, the Red Storm reeled off 5 straight victories to end the regular season and face 4th seeded Seton Hall who has had their own up and down ride this season. The Pirates have huge wins over UConn, Marquette, and others to the tune of 5 “Net Quadrant 1” victories, a big factor considered by the NCAA selection committee. They also had a mediocre out of conference schedule in which the only Football Power Five league team they beat was Missouri who finished last in the SEC. As a result, the Johnnies had revenge in their minds Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York City against both Seton Hall who beat them twice in the Big East Regular season, and against the league and the sport at large who counted St. John’s out for much of the year. Many saw this as an elimination game for the Johnnies who responded by thumping Seton Hall 91-72 and likely leapfrogged over the Pirates in the Big East NCAA Tournament pecking order, but The Hall were mostly considered safe (for now) depending on how results shake out the rest of the weekend. RJ Luis Jr. led six St. John’s players in double figures with 18 points and 9 rebounds off the bench while Joel Soriano had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Al-Amir Dawes led the Pirates with 22 points in the defeat which banished Seton Hall to the waiting game as they sweat things out until the NCAA Tournament Selection Show Sunday at 6pm. 

The way the game played out was a bit of a shock, but after a bit of time to cool off, it’s more of a “surprised, but not surprised” feel for the Pirates and Red Storm. Seton Hall jumped out to early control over the first 10 minutes of the game. Al-Amir Dawes drilled a three pointer four minutes into the game to cap off an early 9-2 burst for the Pirates. Dylan Addae-Wusu gave the Pirates an early 16-12 lead with a three pointer with 14:25 remaining in the first half. The tone of the game started to change as the Johnnies cycled in fresh legs, with RJ Luis Jr providing six quick points to chip away at the Pirates early lead. That lead was blown to bits when St. John’s went on an 8-0 run over two minutes to give the Red Storm a 31-24 lead and make the Pirates take a timeout to try and regroup at the 6:59 mark. The Johnnies took control for the rest of the half. Seton Hall closed the gap to within one when a Kadary Richmond steal off of Chris Ledlum and subsequent layup down the other end brought the score to 41-40 with 1:42 left. A Joel Soriano mid-range jumper and a RJ Luis Jr three pointer at the buzzer snuffed out the Pirates momentum giving St. John’s a 45-40 halftime lead. 

The Johnnies immediately went for the jugular as the second half tipped off, jumping out to a 9-1 run over the first four minutes and opening up the lead to 54-41 at 16:24. The Pirates didn’t really have much to counter with save for a brief spark from Elijah Hutchins-Everett keying a 7-0 run. The gap closed to 7 at 61-54 with an acrobatic layup by Dawes. The Johnnies immediately countered with 10-2 run of their own to bring it back to 71-56 on a Jordan Dingle three pointer. The Pirates last gasp came with a Hutchins-Everett layup and a three from Dawes that got the Pirates back within 10 at 73-63 with 7:46 left. The Pirates only managed two made shots from the field over the remainder of the game as St. John’s made an emphatic statement for their NCAA tournament hopes with the 91-72 win. 

    St. John’s coach Rick Pitino said in the press conference how he cracked the Pirates code. Essentially, he used depth to the Johnnies’ advantage and kept running to wear them down. It worked with flying colors.

Seton Hall coach Shaheen Holloway was stunned and sick to his stomach, as he usually is after losses like this. He knows the Pirates had an opportunity and let it slip away, and that the Pirates resume speaks for itself. However, March is a crazy month, and with the Pirates now leaving their fate to other teams still playing in their conference tournaments it might not be so clear cut. 

Epilogue and Other Big East Musings:

  • St. John’s went on to lose 95-90 to the UConn Huskies in the Big East Tournament (BET) semifinals Friday night. UConn then rolled Marquette 73-57 in the Final Saturday night to emphatically claim their first BET championship since rejoining the league in 2020. 
  • UConn wins their 8th BET title, tying Georgetown for most in league history. 
  • St. John’s reached the BET semifinals for the first time since 2000. 
  • It’s a surreal feeling having a literal second row seat to a viral moment playing out in front of me that went trending and picked up by media far outside the world of sports:
  • Notable Bid Thieves at the conclusion of play Saturday night: ACC (NC State), American (UAB/Temple) Atlantic 10 (Duqesne/VCU), Mountain West (New Mexico), and Pac-12 (Oregon) all feature league tournament Automatic Qualifiers who would not have received At-Large bids. This means North Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Dayton, San Diego State, and Arizona now will earn At-large bids, leaving fewer spots for others on the bubble. 
  • As a result of the bubble shrinking dramatically on Saturday, the tournament hopes of Big East squads St. John’s (20-13), Seton Hall (20-12), and Providence (21-13) are all in jeopardy. Villanova’s (18-15) goose was already cooked when they lost to Marquette Thursday night. 
  • My gut feeling as of the conclusion of games Saturday evening: UConn is a 1 seed, arguably the #1 overall seed in the tournament. Marquette is a 2 seed, Creighton a 3. St. John’s is in the last four byes as a 10 or 11 seed. Providence makes it to the First Four in Dayton by the skin of their teeth by way of their massive BET Quarterfinal win over Creighton. Seton Hall with the lowest NET ranking of the three is probably out. There are valid arguments for or against all three Big East Bubble teams, but probably only enough spots for one or two of them in the field. 
  • Everybody finds out where they play next at 6pm Sunday when the NCAA Selection Show on CBS reveals the field of 68 NCAA Tournament teams. 
  • Stay tuned to the YouTube channel for more videos as we sort through all the various footage from Wednesday and Thursday and throughout the Big East Tournament!

JD Walker is one of the co-founders of Stream Punk Entertainment and has covered the Philadelphia Union, Big East Basketball, and New Jersey high school basketball since 2022. He has a wide-spanning career with experience in a variety of roles inside and outside the world of sports including basketball operations, gameday entertainment, promotions, broadcasting, and finance. He’s a Jersey Shore native sprung from a cage on Highway 9, and loves to geek out on the business and legal side of the games we all love.

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