We’re over halfway through the BIG EAST season and seeding for the BIG EAST Championship March 8-12 is still very much in doubt. The top four teams are separated by just two games and three teams are tied for second with 7-3 records. Saturday saw three of the six conference games come down to the final minute as Villanova, Syracuse, Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh each grabbed conference wins.
In the first game of the day, No. 12/12 Villanova (19-4, 7-3) used a second-half run to take a 66-50 win over No. 25/rv West Virginia. The Wildcats led 45-40 midway through the first half but went on a 19-3 run to pull away from the Mountaineers. Guards Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher combined for 33 points and 12-of-19 shooting from the field. Wayns, Fisher and Corey Stokes all hit 3-pointers during the spurt. West Virginia (15-7, 6-4) was led by Kevin Jones who dropped 16 points and grabbed six rebounds. The Mountaineers shot 19-of-53 from the floor for the game, including just 6-of-25 in the first half.
No. 13/14 Georgetown (18-5, 7-4) snuck past Providence 83-81 at the Verizon Center. Marshon Brooks scored 43 points for the Friars (14-10, 3-8), the fifth-highest total ever in a BIG EAST game and the most against the Hoyas. Brooks had the ball in the final seconds, but Georgetown guard Chris Wright poked the ball away and came up with a steal a midcourt to seal the victory for the Hoyas. It was the sixth-straigh win for Georgetown, which led by as many as 18 in the second half. Guard Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark combined for 57 points, with Freeman leading the way with 23. Brooks was 17-fo-28 from the floor and also grabbed 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double this season. Duke Mondy was the only other Friar in double figures with 19 points.
In the lone non-conference game, St. John’s dropped a 66-59 decision at UCLA. Despite the loss, the BIG EAST has compiled its best non-conference record since 1988-89. The league has a 159-41 (.795) record against non-league foes. Guard Dwight Hardy scored a career-high 32 points for the Red Storm and was the only player in double figures for the visitors. UCLA was 27-of-41 from the free-throw line while St. John’s was just 5-of-7. The Bruins got a three from Reeves Nelson with 34 seconds left that gave UCLA a seven-point lead and clinched the game. It was Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin’s return to UCLA, where he went 145-78 in seven seasons as coach of the Bruins.
Forward Rick Jackson notched his league-leading 16th double-double of the season as No. 17/17 Syracuse (20-4, 7-4) beat USF 72-49. It was the 20th victory of the season for the Orange, who have won at-least 20 games in all but two of head coach Jim Boeheim’s 35 seasons. SU trailed for a brief period in the contest, but used an 18-5 run to close out the first half and take a 37-28 lead into the break. Kris Joseph added 14 points while Dion Waiters had 10 for the Orange. The Bulls (8-16, 2-9), who fell to 11-90 all-time versus ranked opponents, were led by 14 points and 10 rebounds from Jarrid Famous.
No. 4/4 Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1) maintained a two-game lead in the conference with a 71-59 win over Cincinnati. Guard Ashton Gibbs tied his career high with 25 points, hitting on all five of his 3-point attempts, to lead the Panthers. Pitt built a 46-23 lead less than a minute into the second half before the Bearcats made a run late, coming as close as eight in the final minute of play. Cincinnati was playing without suspended forward Yancy Gates, but still managed to outrebound the Panthers 40-38 in the game. Pitt came into the contest ranked No. 1 in the country in rebound margin. Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5) was led by Larry Davis who scored 13 points off the bench.
No. 6/7 Connecticut (18-4, 6-4) rallied to overcome a 10-point deficit and beat Seton Hall 61-59 at the Prudential Center. UConn closed the game on a 15-3 run to win its 11th-consecutive game over the Pirates. Guard Kemba Walker led the Huskies with 19 points, including hitting a 3-pointer with 2:32 remaining that capped a 12-1 run and gave the visitors their first lead of the second half. Forward Alex Oriakhi blocked Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell’s 3-point attempt in the closing seconds that would have tied the game, then made one-of-two free throws to seal the victory. Hazell had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds while Jeff Robinson added 15 points and 11 boards for the Pirates (10-14, 4-8).
Kyle Kuric scored 19 points, including the game-clinching 3-pointer with just over two minutes remaining as No. 15/13 Louisville (18-5, 7-3) notched a 61-57 win over DePaul. The Blue Demons held a five-point lead four minutes into the second half following a Tony Freeland layup. But the Cardinals would battle back and take the lead for good on a Kuric 3 with 8:52 remaining. The Blue Demons had their chances in the closing moments, trailing by three points with the ball when Brandon Young missed a 3-point jumper and Cardinals’ forward Terrence Jennings grabbed the rebound. DePaul would have one more chance by Jimmy Drew turned the ball over with five seconds left and Peyton Siva drained one-of-two at the line to seal it for Louisville. Young led DePaul (6-16, 0-10) with 15 points while Cleveland Melvin added 12.
The lone game on Sunday’s schedule is Rutgers at Notre Dame at noon Eastern. The Irish fell into a three-way tied for second place in the league standings after Villanova and Louisville won Saturday. With a victory, Rutgers can move into a tie with Seton Hall at 4-8.