Big East Tournament begins with only a minor upset

The Big East Tournament opened Friday with three very different contests. In the 9-8 game, the lower seed won comfortably, which was technically an upset. The higher seeds prevailed in the next two games – one a close contest, the other a second-half blowout.

No. 9 Georgetown 68, No. 8 Providence 55

Georgetown’s 33-2 run spanning the two halves buried a Providence team that had looked good, until it didn’t. With the Friars leading 23-15 and 2:37 remaining in the half, Kelsey Ransom’s personal 6-0 run began to flip the script in the Hoyas’ favor.

Graceanne Bennett scored 12 of her 13 points during the run, with five from the free throw line. Georgetown led 49-34 at the end of three periods, and answered a brief Providence run to drop just two points of their advantage in the fourth.

“The end of the second quarter, into the third quarter, they really changed the way we were able to play offense,” Providence coach Joe Crowley said. “When we built the lead in the second quarter, we were playing with really good tempo and putting pressure on them and playing through the middle of the floor. Then we started playing towards the side again and poor tempo and they feasted off that and then they carried that momentum in the third quarter.”

“We were step slow defensively. We obviously turned the ball over too much and put them on the foul line a lot. They really disrupted us with what they did defensively.”

The key to the massive run was a relentless trapping defense that led to 23 Providence turnovers for the game, surrendering 31 Georgetown points.

“We just saw opportunities with the trap and they were working”, guard Milan Bolden-Morris said. “And one of the things that we did in the previous games was let up a little bit. So we just tried to stay aggressive.”

Bolden-Morris finished with 18 points. Emily Archibald scored a game high 21 points off the bench for Providence.

Providence meets UConn in Saturday’s quarterfinal at noon ET

No, 7 St. John’s 76, No. 10 Xavier 69

Rayven Peeples readies to shoots for St. John’s. Ben Solomon photo.

St. John’s outscored Xavier 25-12 in the final period to survive a closely-contested game that featured seven lead changes and five ties. Neither club led by more than nine points in a cleanly played battle that featured just a combined 16 turnovers.

Rayven Peeples had 16 points and 11 boards for the Red Storm. Ayanna Townsend notched 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Musketeers. The final margin came down to a 22-4 St.John’s advantage off the bench, led by forward Danielle Patterson’s ten points on 4-7 shooting. Four players scored in double figures for each team.

“I was pleased with the way we finished the game,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “For the first three quarters, we just really didn’t have it.”

“But I thought or energy and our commitment to defending, guarding the ball, and getting 50-50 balls changed in the fourth quarter. We needed to [do that], obviously throughout the game. So to be able to finish in the fourth with a 25 to 12 disparity and win the game going away, was great.”

Xavier managed to limit Red Storm leading scorer Leilani Correa to two points in the first half, but Peeples and Kadijah Bailey compensated with a combined 33 points.

“Rey [Peeples] played probably the best quarter of her career here,” Tartamella said.  “And made probably the biggest plays of her career since she’s got here, in the fourth quarter. So I’m really happy for her.”

“When you’re in the conference tournament and you can play the way we did to finish the game is a testament to these guys and their mentality because they could have easily let this game go.”

St. John’s plays No. 2 Villanova Saturday at 7 pm ET.

No. 8 Seton Hall 58, No. 11 Butler 39

Seton Hall guard Lauren Park-Lane scoots by the defense. Ben Solomon photo.

Forty-eight points in the first half. Pretty good for one team. Unfortunately, that was the total for both teams in a sad demonstration of terrible offense in Friday’s third game.

Seton Hall began the game on a 9-0 run, then went cold. The game was tied after a desultory half in which Butler actually led for a short time.

With an improved focus on defense, Seton Hall blew the game open with a 34-15 second half. Butler managed just four points in the third quarter.

“I thought we did a really nice job in the first half executing our game plan,” Butler coach Kurt Godlevske said. “We had some moments there where, especially at the start of the first half, where I think we’re a little bit nervous and tentative.”

“But I thought we rebounded well from that start and did what we wanted to do. And then in the second half, I thought Seton Hall really clamped down and took away the things that we were looking to get in the first half with post touches, and really forced our guards to make plays. So they did a great job I thought in the second half defending us.”

Seton Hall shot just 11-36 (.305) in the first half, well below their .424 season average. Second leading scorer Andra Espinoza-Hunter (16.2 ppg) was 0-7.

“Offensively we struggled [in the first half],” Seton Hall coach Anthony Bozzella said, “and, we missed some shots we normally wouldn’t would make, and you know, they made a couple of shots that tested our mettle.”

“But this young lady to the left to me [Lauren Park-Lane], this is why she’s an All-American point guard. Not the games when she scores 30 or 35 – which she can do tomorrow, I hope – but it’s when we’re struggling and things aren’t going right. She turned up her defense. She’s in the huddle saying, ‘it’s okay’ at halftime. She’s like ‘it’s gonna be fine.’ That’s why she was an All-American in my mind and one of the best point guards in the country.”

Park-Lane, generously listed at 5-6, is always the smallest and lightest player on the court, but she is also usually the quickest. She dropped 20 points on UConn, 31 on DePaul and 33 on Villanova in this season alone. The junior averages seven assists per game, but oddly, in this victory she had none for the first time since 2020. That she is not on the Nancy Lieberman Award list is a travesty.

Park-Lane finished with 21 points on 8-17 shooting, 3-5 from beyond the arc. Sydney Jaynes led Seton Hall with ten points.

Seton Hall plays No. 3 Creighton Saturday at 9:30 pm.

No. 4 DePaul and No. 5 Marquette, who both held byes into the quarterfinals, face off in the 2:30 pm ET game Saturday.