Seton Hall 109, Providence 106

Seton Hall and Providence raced up and down the court, playing
little defense in a one-sided game that felt like a school-yard
mismatch most of the night.

That is, until Providence nearly pulled off a colossal
comeback.

Herb Pope had 27 points and 11 rebounds, and Seton Hall built a
huge second-half lead before barely holding off a furious Friars
rally for a 109-106 victory in the first round of the Big East
tournament Tuesday night.

“It was kind of like two different games,” Pirates coach Bobby
Gonzalez said. “Sometimes when you get up like that, it’s not easy
to stay ahead in a game that long. There’s a different strategy.
You try to use the clock. I maybe subbed a little bit too early.
I’m not sure.”

What is sure is that 10th-seeded Seton Hall, after a major sigh
of relief, will go for its fourth consecutive win Wednesday night
against No. 7 seed Notre Dame.

In a breakneck game between the league’s two worst defensive
teams, the Pirates (19-11) opened a 76-47 advantage with 13:36 to
play and it appeared as though they were cruising to an easy
rout.

But the 15th-seeded Friars (12-19), led by Jamine Peterson’s
career-high 38 points and 16 rebounds, got within striking distance
and then went to three-quarter court pressure. They forced
turnovers and charged nearly all the way back, turning the final
minutes into a frantic finish.

Vincent Council’s pull-up jumper cut it to 109-106 with about 8
seconds left as the crowd roared. And after Jeff Robinson missed
two free throws on the other end, Providence – incredibly – had a
chance to tie.

Freshman reserve Duke Mondy pushed the ball up the floor and
hoisted a quick 3-pointer over Jordan Theodore that missed badly
and caromed off the bottom of the backboard.

The loose ball rolled toward the baseline and the buzzer
sounded, leaving the Friars with 11 straight losses to end the
season.

When it was over, an exhausted Mondy lay flat on his back at
center court, hands on his head. Council writhed in pain on the
floor with leg cramps and quickly untied his sneaker as a trainer
rushed over to stretch him out.

Council, a freshman guard who finished with 12 points, was
receiving intravenous fluids after the game, Providence coach Keno
Davis said.

“I look up at the scoreboard and we’re down 30. What
adjustments really can you make at that point?” Davis said. “We
were just trying to motivate our guys to not end the season like
this.”

Peterson set a Providence record for points in a Big East
tournament game, breaking current Florida coach Billy Donovan’s
mark of 34 set against St. John’s in a 1987 quarterfinal.

It was quite a reversal from Saturday’s preview, when Peterson,
who led the Friars in scoring (19 points per game) and rebounding
(10 per game) this season, was held to six points and four rebounds
in Seton Hall’s 92-80 victory at Providence.

The 215 combined points shattered the previous tournament record
for a game that didn’t go to overtime: Boston College’s 94-92 win
over Syracuse in 1982.

“You never know what’s going to happen playing in this
league,” said Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell, who had 18 points in 23
foul-plagued minutes.

The Big East rebounding champ, Pope was a force before fouling
out with 3:10 left. Theodore added 21 points and six assists,
making all four of his 3-point attempts, in an outstanding,
energetic floor game.

Seton Hall, one of several Big East teams hoping a tournament
run could yield an NCAA berth, has won seven of nine following a
three-game slide. The Pirates, who kept pushing the pace even with
their large lead, shot 53.7 percent from the field and went
31-of-45 at the free throw line.

“That last play, it was nerve-racking, but I’m happy he missed
it,” said Theodore, who set career highs with 21 points and eight
assists Saturday against Providence.

Bilal Dixon had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Friars.