Madison Square Garden is a setting Seton Hall’s seniors have dominated in their four years, yet Thursday it was a stage for breakdown rather than triumph.
Seton Hall’s quick start against the Bulldogs was just a flash in the pan, as No. 6-seed Butler fought back from a 14-point deficit to take the late lead and defeat No. 3-seed Seton Hall, 75-74.
The Pirates’ 14-point edge came early and on a wave of momentum. A balanced scoring effort saw Seton Hall’s lead blossom with efficient three-point shooting and smooth distribution.
In their first games coming off ankle injuries, Ismael Sanogo and Desi Rodriguez saw time off the bench. Sanogo was Seton Hall’s secret weapon on offense early, showing off his post moves and even getting two shots to fall from distance. Missing just one shot, he nearly looked unstoppable.
Sanogo scored 12 first-half points, but followed that up with zero in the second half on limited minutes. That was one lost area of a Seton Hall offense that shot 28.6 percent from the field in the second half after shooting 65.4 percent in the first.
“We knew what it was going to take,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “It wasn’t a game of perfect but we didn’t hang our heads when things didn’t go our way. We were down and we just fought back and battled back. And we’ve seen that out of this group before. We know we had it in us and it was great to see it come out at this moment.”
While Seton Hall led by seven points with six minutes to go, Butler chipped at the lead as Seton Hall’s 13 turnovers mounted and Kamar Baldwin went on to score a game-high 32 points.
When the Bulldogs eventually took the lead with 1:10 to go on a Henry Baddley layup, Baddley’s only points of the game, the lead started to change hands. Seton Hall struggled to get a stop on multiple attempts and failed to score on others.
A Myles Powell three that bounced and hung in the air took an unlikely bounce into the bucket to highlight the late stretch, but Baldwin answered. Khadeen Carrington then drew an and-one, but Butler’s Tyler Wideman followed up a Baldwin missed layup with five seconds left that gave the Bulldogs their result.
The win is Butler’s first win in the Big East Tournament, as Seton Hall falls in the quarterfinals for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
For Carrington, who finished with 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds, he did not know how the Pirates lost the spark that put them up 14 in the first half.
“I’m not sure what changed,” Carrington said. “It’s just that they went on their run. We had our runs and they just had the last run. But I think we still continued to try to play defense. Baldwin was hot tonight. So it was hard to stop him.”
In the teams’ last matchup on March 3, Kelan Martin dropped 35 points, but he was largely quiet Thursday as he shot 1-of-8 from three. But this time it was Baldwin’s turn.
One player who was off the court for the game-deciding play was Angel Delgado. The big man had a tough game offensively, shooting 4-of-13 for 13 points and nine rebounds, and coach Kevin Willard felt Mike Nzei was a better fit on the floor.
“They’ve run the same play against us at home, on the road,” Willard said. “They were just going to bring Wideman up and crack ’em. So, Mike being a better pick-and-roll defender, was on Wideman to try to stop Baldwin. Baldwin was just having his way with the pick-and-roll. So, I thought Mike did a good job of challenging it late, and Wideman did a great job following it, tipping it.”
Containing Delgado was a focal point for Butler, a team that Seton Hall defeated twice in the regular season.
“I think we just stuck to the game plan, the scouting report, and we just did a good job on Delgado, not letting him get easy touches,” Martin said. “And we just played within ourselves offensively.”
In terms of positives, Willard sees the early Big East Tournament exit as an opportunity to keep bodies fresh for the NCAA Tournament. While Willard feels better about Sanogo’s injury since he has played with injuries in the past, Rodriguez is a different story as he is dealing with his first-career injury.
“I’m going to look at the positive side for it, and that’s the first time we’re going to have a chance to get some rest going into the NCAA Tournament,” Willard said. “We’re going to take the rest. We’re going to use it to practice and get a little sharper on some things that we’ve been doing well at.”
For Seton Hall, the best thing they can get out of a heartbreaking loss is future motivation.
“I said, ‘Guys, you have two teams that know each other, two teams that play extremely hard. Both teams made some great plays,’” Willard said. “All the players, I thought, played – I thought that was a typical Big East Tournament game.”
As Powell threw up a hail Mary with the seconds winding down and Butler’s bench overtaking the court, Seton Hall’s hopes of another Big East Championship fell with it. But Seton Hall has no time to hang its heads with more basketball still to play – the rest of it just will not come at MSG.
“I think both teams made some great plays,” Willard said. “And they made the last one.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.