NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — With a week to go until the conference tournament, No. 4 Villanova and Seton Hall showed everyone what Big East basketball is all about.
It’s not pretty. It was ugly at times, but it was hard-fought, low-scoring, physical and it had the crowd of 13,711 at the Prudential Center on their feet most of the night. And it was fun.
Mikal Bridges scored 23 points, Jalen Brunson made big plays down the stretch and Villanova avoided consecutive losses for the first time since the 2012-13 season with a 69-68 overtime victory on Wednesday night.
“I don’t know,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about the game. “I have to look at the film. It wasn’t pretty. But it was a great experience for these guys, especially this time of year, coming into a great environment against a tough defensive team and finding a way to gut it out.”
The Wildcats (26-4, 13-4) won because Bridges and Brunson stepped up in crunch time, especially Brunson who scored 12 of his 14 points in the final 3:56 of regulation and the overtime.
“This is something that is preparing us for the future and something we needed as a team,” said Brunson, who hit two free throws with 6 seconds left in overtime to put the Wildcats up three points. “To see the guys together in this environment and have this type of game is a great step for us. We have to keep building off of it.”
Khadeen Carrington closed out the scoring with two free throws with a second to play to finish off a 23-point night for Seton Hall (20-10, 9-8), However, he also missed a free throw with 11.6 seconds left in regulation that could have given the Pirates a late one-point lead.
“In this league when you play a game like this and both teams battle, I couldn’t be more proud of my guys,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard said. “I hate losing, but when you go out and leave it all on the floor like our guys did, again I thought both teams should be proud. Sometimes you lose these games.”
Villanova, which is 4-3 in its last seven games, never trailed in the overtime after Phil Booth and Brunson sandwiched 3-pointers around a free throw by Angel Delgado for a 60-55 lead.
Miles Powell added 14 points for Seton Hall, which played without leading scorer Desi Rodriguez (ankle) for the second straight game and saw its three-game winning streak snapped.
Carrington had a chance to give Seton Hall the lead when he went to the line for two free throws with the Pirates trailing 52-51 with 11.6 seconds to play. He missed the first and made the second.
Villanova called time out with 9.1 seconds to play in regulation to set up a final shot but Seton Hall denied Brunson the ball and Donte DiVincenzo’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer never looked good.
The Wildcats seemingly had the game within their grasp when Brunson hit a short jumper in the lane for a 50-49 lead and Bridges scored on a layup seconds later after Miles Cale turned the ball over with 44 seconds to play.
Carrington closed the gap to a point with two free throws with 36 seconds to go. The Pirates were then forced to foul four times to get Nova into a 1-and-1 situation and Brunson made the plan work out, missing his free throw with 23.6 seconds to go.
Carrington had a chance to end the Wildcats streak but missed his opportunity.
Trailing 36-25 with 12:45 left in the second half, Powell hit two 3-pointers to cap a personal 8-0 run that got the Pirates within 36-33 with 10:55 to play.
After Bridges hit a reverse layup, Seton Hall continued its 14-2 spurt that Carrington capped for a 39-38 lead. The game seesawed the rest of the way.
Villanova: Still have a chance to tie for regular-season Big East title, but Xavier would have to loss to DePaul. The Wildcats have won the last four regular-season conference titles.
Seton Hall: Need to win Saturday to avoid slipping into the bottom four in the league. A Creighton win over Marquette also would keep the Pirates out of the bottom four, which would have them playing a first-round tournament game.
Villanova: Host Georgetown on Saturday afternoon in regular-season finale
Seton Hall: Host Butler on Saturday night in the seniors’ final home game.
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