The BIG EAST Tournament has produced a number of wild events through its history, but Friday night's 81-79 Seton Hall semifinal win over No. 23 Marquette will, at the very least, go down as the craziest conference tournament game involving MU to date.
The contest will be remembered for the controversial turn it took with 12:48 remaining and Marquette up three, 53-50. The drama started when Myles Powell drove the lane and looked to make a leaping pass back outside. Theo John's hand made contact with Powell as he fell to the ground making the pass, though television replays showed the contact to be light and, perhaps, without intent.
The already-chippy game, which saw Sandro Mamukelashvili given a technical foul less than a minute earlier, suddenly flew off the proverbial rails. Powell bounced up and immediately jawed at John, who remained silent, hoping to avoid a class A technical foul that would be his disqualifying fifth personal. Tempers flared on the whole. All of the on-court players came together, Steve Wojciechowski sprinted into the fray and Sacar Anim and Anthony Nelson appeared ready to trade blows.
After an over nine-minute delay for review, the officials assessed John, Anim and Mamukelashvili each Flagrant 2 technicals, automatically causing all three to be ejected. The officials explained to the FS1 television broadcast team that John's foul was purportedly for pushing a player in mid-air, despite the fact Powell's momentum appeared to be the primary factor in his direction and his landing, all without much influence from John's hand.
Powell, meanwhile, was given a non-disqualifying class A technical for unsportsmanlike conduct. In the confusion, Powell misinterpreted the call, thought he had been ejected as well and went to the locker room. After he returning to cheers from Seton Hall fans, he gave the Pirates a major boost. Marquette led, 63-58, when Powell hit consecutive three-pointers to give Seton Hall its first lead of the game, 64-63, with 6:37 remaining. Having beaten Marquette with an 18-0 game-ending run the last time the two teams met, the Pirates again captured momentum late, not to mention that Marquette was missing two starters in John and Anim.
Still, even with Seton Hall up six and a minute remaining, Marquette and the referees made the already madcap affair even moreso. Markus Howard hit a pair of free throws to pull Marquette within four, 80-76. On the ensuing possession, Jared Rhoden, in position for a spectacular and perhaps game-sealing dunk, not only saw the ball brick out, but was whistled for both offensive goaltending and a class B technical for hanging on the rim. It was the second technical assessed to Seton Hall in a minute and a half, after Quincy McKnight was cited with 1:58 left for reacting to a touch foul by demonstratively high-stepping down the court. Following Rhoden's technical, the eighth in the game, Howard made one free-throw, leaving Marquette behind three. The goaltending call gave Marquette the ball after the free-throws and Howard was fouled by Nelson with 37 seconds left. Two more free-throws to brought Marquette within one, 80-79.
Seton Hall used as much time as it could in its final offensive possession to leave little clock for Marquette to try and pull off a miracle. Nelson missed a jumper, but Marquette reserve Jamal Cain fouled Shawn Reynolds in the chase for the rebound. With Reynolds only hitting the second of the double-bonus free throws, Marquette got the ball back needing two points to tie or three to win. Despite having a timeout, Wojciechowski elected not to use it, instead allowing Howard to dribble the length of the floor and put up a contested step-back three at the buzzer. The shot clanged off the outside rim, sending Marquette to defeat and the Pirates onto the final.
Without John after the ejection, and with fellow forward Ed Morrow, Jr. in second-half foul trouble, rebounding played a big part in Marquette (24-9) losing the lead. In the first half, Marquette won the rebounding battle, 21-18, but the Pirates outrebounded Marquette in the second, 29-18, including 11 second-half offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points. Seton Hall was also able to penetrate more with John off the floor and a number of other Marquette players trying to avoid fouling out. Pirate big man Michael Nzei scored 11 of his 18 points, and gathered 11 of his 15 rebounds, in the final 20 minutes.
Powell finished with 22 points to lead Seton Hall (20-12), while McKnight added 18. Howard, who had to leave the game for the final few minutes of the first half after a lingering left wrist injury worsened, still scored 21 points. The injury clearly affected Howard's shooting. He went just 1-for-15 from the field, and while he made it to the free-throw line 24 times, his 18 makes put him at 75 percent for the night, well below his 90 percent season mark.
The bad blood even carried over after the game. When Wojciechowski didn't see Powell offering to shake his hand following the contest, Powell reacted by shouting and trying to reach back out to the Marquette coach. A minor skirmish ensued, where both Powell and Wojciechowski were held back by others on the floor to avoid further incident.
While Marquette is expected to be among the teams chosen for the NCAA tournament, the win may prove useful for Seton Hall, a team considered to be on the edge of selection. They can guarantee themselves a spot with a win over No. 25 Villanova in the final. Marquette, meanwhile, goes into Selection Sunday tomorrow having lost five of its last six games, including two of those five to the Pirates.
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