NEWARK, N.J. -- In its biggest game of the season Tuesday night, Seton Hall stepped up to the plate and smashed a home run.
In search of a signature win to place at the top of their NCAA tournament résumé, the Pirates pounded No. 8 Georgetown 73-55, and all but punched their ticket to the Big Dance -- their first since 2006.
"I just wanna dance so bad," said point guard Jordan Theodore. "I still can't taste it yet, but I know we're so close."
Theodore is the primary reason. The 6-foot senior from Englewood, N.J., Seton Hall's leading scorer (15.7 ppg), played the game of his life against the Hoyas. Theodore drained eight of his 11 shots from the field, all five 3-point attempts, and all eight free throws en route to a career-high 29 points, plus five assists and four rebounds.
And he did it against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
"I let the first one go, and ever since I made the first one, there was no turning back," Theodore said. "The hoop was just so wide tonight. It was like I was throwing the ball in the crowd. Every shot I put up just felt like it was going in."
"That's probably the most complete game a guard's played all year in the league, from points to assists to defense to running a team," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "He just played fantastic."
Theodore scored 12 of his points in the first 20 minutes as the Pirates opened up a 35-28 halftime lead. And he was even better in the second half -- both shooting the ball and setting up his teammates. The Seton Hall lead quickly ballooned to double digits, and the rout was on from there.
"To tell you the truth he didn't make any mistakes, and I'm not just talking about the shots he made," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "He totally controlled everything, and tonight we just didn't have any answers for him."
As a team, the Pirates shot 25-for-41 from the field (61 percent), and 8-for-13 from beyond the arc (61.5), against a Georgetown team ranked 11th in the country in field goal defense (38.4 percent). That's the best a team has shot against the Hoyas in Thompson's eight years as head coach.
"I thought all of them played fantastic, from offensively to defensively," Willard said. "I didn't think one guy played a bad game."
Willard admitted afterward that Seton Hall approached this as a must-win, in terms of the NCAA tournament. After opening up 15-2 and entering the Top 25 for the first time in 11 years, the Pirates went into a tailspin from mid-January to early February, losing six straight games.
Seton Hall then won three in a row against Rutgers, Pittsburgh and St. John's, but lost a critical game at Cincinnati on Saturday. The Pirates had just one win against a Top 25 opponent before Tuesday -- and that came in early January against UConn, which has since plummeted from the rankings.
Now, as long as Seton Hall (19-9, 8-8 Big East) doesn't collapse and lose its final two regular-season games at home against Rutgers (12-15, 4-10) and at DePaul (11-16, 2-13), the Pirates should find themselves in the field of 68.
"This definitely helps us, yeah," Willard said. "This is a huge win for us."
It's also a huge accomplishment for Willard, in his second season at Seton Hall, who took the reins following the tumultuous reign of Bobby Gonzalez, and inherited a program in disarray.
The Pirates finished 13-18 last year, and were picked to finish 13th in the Big East this season -- behind Rutgers and St. John's. Yet Seton Hall appears poised to be the only local Big East school representing the Big Apple come Selection Sunday.
"This is the goal every year, to be relevant in March and give your team a chance," Willard said. "It's happened probably three years quicker than I thought it was gonna happen. But now that it is, we gotta try to take advantage of the opportunity."
Can the Pirates make a deep run in the Dance? Probably not. That would be too much to ask.
But here's the thing -- Seton Hall didn't just prove it's an NCAA tournament team Tuesday night.
The Pirates also proved that on their best day, they can beat just about anybody.