The Seton Hall men’s soccer team got their fairy tale ending to the Big East season after beating No. 2 Georgetown 2-1 to claim their first Big East Tournament title since 1991.
“An individual can win a game, but it takes a team to win a conference,” goalkeeper Andreas Nota said. “The bench provides amazing support, even the guys that don’t play, and it just pumps us up. I want to repeat that this is not just a group or team, this is a family and I love all of them.”
The Pirates’ win on Saturday also ended a 27-game unbeaten streak for the Hoyas at home and was the first game between the two sides decided in regulation time this season. The previous two games ended in a 2-1 overtime win for Georgetown at Shaw Field and a 1-1 draw at Owen T. Carroll Field. It was Seton Hall’s first win over the reigning Big East champions since 2014 and their first tournament win over the Hoyas since 2004.
“I believe in myself; I believe that we assembled a great staff and I believe in my players,” Lindberg said. “I was disappointed after the first two years because I thought we were good enough to qualify for the Big East playoffs and get that experience because it’s very hard not to qualify and then go all the way to win it. I was very disappointed in those first years that we weren’t closer, but once we made it, I was very confident that we could go and compete.”
With the win, Seton Hall have also secured an automatic bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Manfred Schellscheidt coached the team to a Round of 32 finish that year and got the team as far as the Round of 16 in 2001 and 1988 during his 23 years as head coach of the team.
The tournament title also improves the Pirates’ overall record to 8-1-3 for their first winning-record season since 2006 and first in three years under head coach Andreas Lindberg.
16’: CJ Tibbling cut inside from the right flank before slipping Camil Koreichi in behind Georgetown’s back line. Koreichi then coolly finished off the move with a well-placed side-footed finish into the bottom left corner of the net.
34’: After a ball over the top of Seton Hall’s defense settled in the box, Georgetown worked to passes across the six-yard box to find a wide-open Zach Riviere for the equalizer.
63’: Creator turned goal-scorer, Tibbling was played through on goal by Mattias Almeida Sundell and curled his sixth goal of the season past Big East Goalkeeper of the Year Giannis Nikopolidis for what would eventually be the game-winning goal.
After a comprehensive 4-1 win over No. 17 Marquette in the Big East Tournament semifinals, Seton Hall started the first half of the final conservatively. While they held their defensive shape well, Georgetown found themselves in possession and on the ball for much longer and in much more dangerous positions centrally than what was allowed for Marquette on Thursday.
The pressure was lifted off the Pirates a bit with the opening goal from Koreichi, but the Hoyas forced numbers forward to chip away at Seton Hall’s backline. Finally, the Pirates’ defense broke as a ball over the top beat Luca Dahn to find the run of Marlon Ponce who settled the ball and passed it along to Paul Rothrock. After Rothrock turned with the ball, he released another layoff to an unmarked Riviere to finish the move off from close range.
Seton Hall held out the draw heading into half time, but it was clear the execution from Thursday’s semifinal win was not coming off as cleanly against the reigning national champions.
“I thought we got played off the park in the first half,” Lindberg said. “Credit to Georgetown. Of all the six halves we played all year, I think that was their best all year. I won’t say we got lucky because we scored a really nice goal to take the lead, but they just came wave after wave after wave. We were really defeated in the locker room at half time. A couple of words were said in the locker room, I said, ‘Boys, we’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over,’ and that’s the mentality we went into the second half with.”
While their press was still relatively conservative compared to Thursday’s game, the Pirates did start the second half with more bite. Seton Hall fired three shots wide of the net in the first 15 minutes of the second half, but the build-up to the opportunities and boost in confidence they provided the team kept Georgetown from regaining the dominance they held in the first half.
Then, in the 64’, Sundell broke through two Georgetown midfielders with a tidy piece of footwork and attempted to play Tibbling through on goal. The initial pass was blocked by a Georgetown defender, but the mis-touch fell right in Tibbling’s path, and the Swedish forward made no mistake curling the ball around the goalkeeper from just inside the 18-yard box.
The Hoyas had a golden chance to equalize from a penalty kick just four minutes later, but Nota read Dante Polvara’s intentions for the kick and dove to his right side to deny the Hoyas their equalizer.
“As a keeper, we live differently from other players,” Nota said. “Other players have chances to score, and the adrenaline they get from scoring keeps them going. Goalkeepers very rarely have those moments, so being able to save the penalty and help win the game was an amazing feeling. I had goosebumps for the rest of the game, and that adrenaline is still in me.”
Georgetown continued to push on for the equalizer in the final 20 minutes of the game, but the Pirates settled into their defensive shape well. Not dissimilar to the way Seton Hall closed out their win over Marquette, they flustered the Hoyas’ central creativity and forced them to play in the channels or compete for long balls against center backs Luca Dahn and Maurice Williams.
With five seconds left on the clock, Nikopolidis attempted to punt a long ball into the Pirates’ half for one last attempt to equalize, but the kick was whiffed, and the Seton Hall players threw their arms up in celebration. A long-awaited return to the Big East Tournament was finished off with a pair of title-winning performances, and the Pirates were a mixed bag of group celebrations and relieved falls to the ground at the sound of the final whistle.
“That last 15 minutes felt like it was two hours, it wasn’t very enjoyable,” Lindberg said. “We’re great, and we’re so proud. It just means a lot to the whole athletic department. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of such a close-knit group of kids.”
Saturday’s win was made even more special with the number 20 jersey of Peter Scavo, a former Seton Hall men’s soccer team player who passed away on Feb. 1 this year. Scavo, the all-time program leader in game-winning goals with 20, was a two-year captain between 1996 and 1999 and earned Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Seton Hall University Male Athlete of the Year honors in his final season in 1999.
“It was a bit emotional at lunch today when we confirmed what we were going to do,” Lindberg said. “We told the boys what we were going to do and that we were not just playing for the name on the back so-to-speak. We were playing for the badge, the Pirates and the people all over the world that follows us. I was by myself at one point while everyone else was on the field and I looked at the jersey, and it was a moment that would bring tears to anyone’s eyes.”
With the win, Seton Hall claimed an automatic bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament which will be hosted across various campuses in North Carolina. This year’s tournament pool will only consist of 32 teams as opposed to the usual 48 teams due to the coronavirus-related adjustments made by the NCAA earlier in the season.
“It’s been a long time,” Nota said. “We played against the national champions on their field, and we won. I need to say that we will get ours at the NCAA Tournament. We are a family, a brotherhood, and we speak together when we feel like someone isn’t playing well. The pressure and the passion we put in every second of the game is just amazing, so I think we can get ours.”
The official tournament pool for this year’s College Cup will be announced on Monday, April 19 for both the men’s and women’s tournaments.