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MBB: Pirates drop nail bitter, show they’re a NCAA Tournament team

USA Today

USA Today

The Seton Hall Pirates were defeated by the Villanova Wildcats 72-71 in front of an energized crowed of nearly 9,000 on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.

Sophomore Isaiah Whitehead had 21 points to lead all scorers, but the Pirates bid to upset No. 4 Villanova came up just short.

The Hall pushed Jay Wright and the fourth-ranked Wildcats to the limit in a bid to end what is now a 22-game winning streak for Villanova against conference foes.

19 of Whitehead’s 21-points came in the second half as the sophomore shot 5-of-10 from the floor in the final period while also dishing out a game-high five assists.

Three other Pirates scored in double-figures led by Khadeen Carrington who had 17 points, and Angel Delgado finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.

The packed crowed relished the opportunity for an upset of the two-time defending league champions and was rocking from the start.

Villanova standout Daniel Ochefu, who had a career high 20 points and 18 rebounds in the first meeting between these two earlier in January, had more fouls than points in a scoreless first half. The Pirates took advantage of Ochefu being held off the floor and hopped out to an early 12-8 lead.

The Wildcats then hit five of its first eight 3-pointers to take a 14-2 run that was led by junior Josh Hart.

Carrington, after missing his first five shots, found a way to come out of his slump and carried the Hall into the half converting 10 straight points including back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Pirates within one. The half came to an end with Seton Hall trailing 35-33, and ‘Nova shooting 8-of-14 from behind the arc.

Villanova opened up the second half flying, opening up a 45-37 lead, but couldn’t put the Pirates away. With the help of Whitehead and Delgado, the Pirates cut an eight-point deficit to just one with under four minutes to play.

It was then Whitehead again putting the Pirates in front for the first time since the opening minutes with a corner 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining, but missed what would have been a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 45 seconds left.

After Villanova senior Ryan Arcidiacono converted a layup with 32.4 seconds remaining, Villanova’s defense wouldn’t let up as Ochefu blocked a game tying layup attempt by Seton Hall senior Derrick Gordon.

The Pirates may have come up short, but the game was much more than a heartbreaker. Villanova may very well stand as the No. 2 team in the nation come Monday and Seton Hall played them down to the final seconds.

The Pirates are still learning, and time is running out, but with January winding down the question still remains: Is Seton Hall an NCAA tournament team? And is there enough time for them to show that they are?

Wright thinks so.

“They’re tough, and they drive the ball as well as anyone in the country,” he said.

When asked if they’re an NCAA tournament team Wright did not hesitate to respond.

“Hell yeah,” he said.

So will Wright be right? Well in my mind they’re a tournament team, but there is plenty of season left to play, including a trip to Cincinnati and a matchup with the No. 5 Xavier Musketeers. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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