NEW YORK — Villanova became the first team to win three consecutive Big East Tournaments, holding off Seton Hall 74-72 on Saturday night behind seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and key contributions from freshman Saddiq Bey.
Seton Hall star Myles Powell, guarded closely by Booth, missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds that could have won it. Booth was called for travelling as he tried to corral the rebound, however, and the Pirates got one more chance with 0.4 seconds left. Anthony Nelson’s long inbounds lob bounced off the backboard and was slapped away by the Wildcats, who got to party on the Madison Square Garden floor yet again.
“This one is special, very special. This team has taught me so much,” Booth said during the postgame ceremonies at centre court. “These young dudes are like a fresh breath of air for me, being around them.”
The 25th-ranked and top-seeded Wildcats (25-9) were in the Big East final for a fifth straight year, and have won four of the last five championships. The only loss during that span was to Seton Hall in 2016, and Powell and the third-seeded Pirates (20-13) gave Villanova all it could handle once again.
“Can’t thank Phil and Eric for their leadership enough,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “They’ve been great examples of what a Villanova basketball player is their whole career.”
Powell scored 25 points to cap a spectacular three days in Manhattan for the high-scoring guard.
Paschall had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Booth scored 16 and was selected most outstanding player of the 40th Big East Tournament.
Bey, who Villanova fans hope will lead the next wave of championship teams, had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“Our team loves playing here in the Garden,” Wright said.
Villanova had a chance to seal it in the final 30 seconds but Paschall was called for a charge when he lowered his shoulder into Myles Cale with 24 seconds left. Powell quickly scored inside at the other end to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 73-72 with 15.5 seconds left.
The Pirates sent Paschall to the line with 13.7 seconds remaining and he made the first and missed the second. Seton Hall rebounded and called a timeout to set up a final play with 8.9 seconds left.
Seton Hall: Nelson scored 12 points off the bench for the scrappy Pirates, but other than Powell, they had a hard time finding offence. They did force 14 turnovers. They’ll go as far as Powell and a tough defence will take them in the NCAAs.
Villanova: The Wildcats also got key contributions from sophomores Jermaine Samuels (12 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (six points and seven rebounds). The inexperienced players have provided inconsistent production much of the season, and if Wright’s team is going to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats will need more games like this one from the young guys.
“Things were rocky right until the last second of this game,” Wright said. “It’s been a rocky season.”
Seton Hall: The Pirates are headed to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament, matching a school best (1991-94).
Villanova: The defending national champions will be in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight season, but will probably be seeded worse than a 2 for the first time since 2013. Villanova also won the 2016 national title.