– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEW YORK — As is always the case, the action that occurs at the Big East Conference Tournament allows those teams who did not put their best foot forward all season a chance at redemption, and, in the 2021 edition that got underway on Wednesday, both DePaul and Butler took steps toward ending their seasons on a high note.
Of course, there is the other side of the coin when conference tournament play rolls around, and those vanquished on the Madison Square Garden floor tonight suffered what could become fatal blows to any chance at an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Day 1 of the 2021 Big East Tournament was highlighted by a couple of upsets in the evening session, with both 10th-seeded Butler and No. 11 DePaul advancing to the quarterfinals along with No. 8 Georgetown. In the first game of the evening session, the Bulldogs came back from a 14-point second half deficit to stun No. 7 Xavier 70-69 in overtime. Guard Chuck Harris scored five points in the final 44 seconds of overtime for Butler, draining a three-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 68-67 lead and, after a pair of free throws that gave Musketeers the the lead back, drawing a foul with three seconds left and hitting both free throws to provide the winning points. The Bulldogs advance to take on No. 2 seed Creighton tomorrow evening.
Xavier, which entered the game No. 58 in the NCAA’s NET Rankings and just one “Quad 1” victory to its credit, was on the cut line of most bracketologists’ projections before adding a loss to a team ranked No. 117 in the NET and were 9-14 coming into tonight.
In the nightcap, DePaul earned a victory at The World’s Most Famous Arena for a second consecutive season, defeating sixth-seeded Providence 70-62. The win marks the first time the Blue Demons have advanced to the Big East quarterfinal round in back-to-back seasons. Backcourt mates Charlie Moore and Javon Freeman-Liberty each scored 21 points, while DePaul’s defense held the Friars to just 35 percent shooting from the field (20-for-57). DePaul, coached by former Connecticut assistant Dave Leitao, will now take on the Huskies in tomorrow’s quarterfinal nightcap.
In the one game during the day session, the Hoyas got a career-high 19 points from center Qudus Wahab as Georgetown rolled No. 9 seed Marquette 68-49, advancing to the quarterfinals where they will take on regular-season champion Villanova. Georgetown held the Golden Eagles to just 14 points in the first half in opening up a 32-14 lead at the intermission. Senior guard Jahvon Blair led all scorers with 20 points.
The other matchup in the quarterfinals tomorrow will be the No. 5 seed Seton Hall Pirates against the No. 4 seed St. John’s Red Storm, a game that might end up seeing the winner of the game making the NCAA Tournament and the loser waiting out a tense few days leading up to Selection Sunday.