NEW YORK — Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado muscled the ball through the basket to set up a three-point play, and then kissed his biceps in celebration.
The Pirates were too strong for fifth-ranked Xavier on Friday in their 87-83 victory in the Big East Tournament semifinals. They earned their first berth in the championship game since 1993 — before all but one of their current players were born.
"These guys are tough," coach Kevin Willard said. "I wouldn’t want to play the five guys that are out there on the court."
Khadeen Carrington had 23 points and seven rebounds and fellow sophomore Isaiah Whitehead added 20 points and eight assists as third-seeded Seton Hall beat the Musketeers for the second time in less than two weeks.
The Pirates face third-ranked Villanova in Saturday’s championship game.
"This is what we talked about before we even came here, getting Seton Hall back on the map back to where it was," said Carrington, who shot 8 for 11.
The Pirates, headed to their first NCAA Tournament in a decade, led by as many as 17 points in the first half, beating the Musketeers to loose balls and converting steals into easy baskets. And when Xavier made a second-half run, Whitehead kept answering with big plays.
Delgado scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting for Seton Hall (24-8). Freshman Edmond Sumner led the second-seeded Musketeers (27-5) with 21 points but shot just 7 for 23. Xavier was 8 of 30 on 3-pointers.
With the score tied 13-13 just over seven minutes in, Derrick Gordon scored on two straight fast-break layups to spark a 21-4 Seton Hall run. After Carrington hit a jumper, the Pirates got two offensive rebounds on their next possession, with Michael Nzei slamming home the second. Moments later, Gordon’s steal led to a fast-break layup by Carrington, who then hit two consecutive 3-pointers.
Xavier went scoreless for three minutes during the spurt as Seton Hall built a 34-17 lead.
Seton Hall scored 15 points off takeaways in the first half. The Musketeers had more turnovers (13) than field goals (nine) at the break.
Xavier had nine field goals in the first eight minutes of the second half and started to fluster the Pirates with its 1-3-1 zone. But the Musketeers never got within one possession thanks to Whitehead. He hit a 3-pointer after they pulled within five with 12 minutes left, and two possessions later, after Xavier had climbed within four, he spun through the lane for another clutch basket.
He later blocked the shot of Sean O’Mara, who is 6 inches taller, as Seton Hall started to pull back away, aided by missed four missed free throws by the Musketeers.
"He’s a monster," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "He’s the best player in the league. Put that down."
Up 14 with two minutes left, the Pirates created some tense moments for their fans who had Madison Square Garden rocking. Seton Hall committed five late turnovers, and the Musketeers had a chance to pull within four with 21 seconds left. Kaiser Gates hit only 1 of 2 free throws, though. Xavier then nearly got a steal, but Gordon was able to corral the ball and was fouled.
Seton Hall: Gordon, the Pirates’ lone senior, is their only player who was born before their last Big East final appearance. He had 10 points and three steals Friday. … Seton Hall had a whopping 25 turnovers but shot 51.8 percent from the field and held Xavier to 34.9 percent.
Xavier: Myles Davis went down hard when he got his layup blocked early in the second half, but he came back in after a brief rest. … Actor Bill Murray, whose son Luke is an assistant coach for the Musketeers, again sat behind the bench in an "X" cap. … Xavier was seeking to reach the final for the second straight season.