NEW YORK -- In the first game of the new Big East’s first tournament, an original member triumphed over one of the new additions, which felt appropriate.
“It’s a good feeling, just knowing that we’re able to advance and continue to play for Seton Hall,” senior swingman Fuquan Edwin said. “We’re trying to take it all the way.”
Seton Hall built a 13-point lead midway through the second half, but then nearly blew the game. Sloppy play down the stretch gave Butler the chance to win in the final seconds, but Alex Barlow's heave from just inside half court hit the backboard and nothing else.
The Pirates shot just 39.6 percent from the field. But the Bulldogs’ starting backcourt of Barlow and Kellen Dunham shot 1-for-11 and 2-for-10, respectively.
“There’s some nights that just aren’t your night,” said Butler coach Brandon Miller. “We struggled to shoot the ball in the basket.”
Seton Hall lost to Butler twice in the regular season, including a 17-point loss in Indianapolis just four days ago. Dunham poured in 29 points in that one, draining all seven of his 3-point attempts.
Pirates coach Kevin Willard said the game plan Wednesday was to blanket Dunham on defense, and pound the ball into big man Euene Teague on the other end. It worked -- Dunham scored just four points, and Teague had a team-high 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Willard wasn’t worried about his team’s motivation, despite the demoralizing loss at Butler over the weekend.
“This is the Big East tournament,” Willard said. “If you can’t get ready for the Big East tournament, there’s something wrong with you.”
It remains to be seen whether the rebooted Big East can put on a tournament that captivates New York City and college basketball fans nationwide the way it did for so many years. Wednesday night’s doubleheader, featuring just the bottom four seeds, was just an appetizer.
The crowd was decent, the action was competitive if not especially compelling. But Thursday’s four quarterfinals, and the accompanying atmosphere, will be far more revealing.
Seton Hall’s reward for beating Butler? A matchup with top seed and No. 3-ranked Villanova at noon, with just 15 hours in between.
Butler’s first Big East season is over. The Bulldogs finished 14-17 overall, and won just four games in the conference. Before they departed, their coach was asked to give his thoughts on the league.
“It’s a very strong league,” Miller said. “I don’t know how many leagues can say that their 7-seed in the tournament has the wins that our 7-seed in our tournament has.”
He’s right -- Georgetown did have five wins over teams ranked in the Top 50 in the RPI. Seven of the 10 current Big East teams could have made a case for making the NCAA tournament before the Hoyas were upset by DePaul in Wednesday night's second game.
Maybe that says more about the new Big East than these four days in New York will.