NEW YORK — Whether your basketball dreams come true or come to a crashing halt, those memories will stay in the collective minds of players and coaches alike when those moments happen in the Big Apple. Over the next 100 hours or so, one team will have sweet dreams of their time in New York and at the Big East Tournament. The other 10 teams? Not so much.
The major conferences of college basketball begin their tournaments in earnest today, and we start our coverage of all those contests with the Big East Tournament, staging its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden for the 41st time. It didn’t take too long for traditional Big East powers with vintage performances, as well as dramatic finishes, to come to the fore inside of the World’s Most Famous Arena.
In today’s first game, No. 8 St. John’s had an easy time of it against No. 9 Butler, cruising to a 76-63 victory this afternoon. The Red Storm trailed for only 37 seconds in the contest as five players scored in double figures, led by Joel Soriano’s 19 points and 15 rebounds. St. John’s will play top-seeded and conference regular-season champion Marquette, and the two waged an instant classic in the season finale just four days ago, a game the Golden Eagles prevailed 96-94.
An instant classic is what unfolded in the day’s second game, as No. 10 DePaul used three free throws from Umoja Gibson with 3.9 seconds remaining, then a last-second block at the buzzer was confirmed by instant replay to defeat No. 7 Seton Hall 66-65 in the tournament’s first seed upset. The Pirates were holding on to a four-point lead, 65-61, with just 17 seconds remaining before the frantic finish began with a Jalen Terry layup with seven seconds to go. Terry then stole the ensuing inbounds pass before passing the ball to Gibson, who was fouled shooting a three-pointer. He made all three free throws to give DePaul the lead, but that late-game drama somehow paled in comparison to what occurred in those final 3.9 seconds.
After a mad dash into the frontcourt, Femi Odukale had was credited with a basket when Nick Ongenda’s block of the former’s shot attempt was ruled goaltending. As all of the players from both teams stood around on the court and waited for the referees to review the play on the video monitors, the sellout crowd of over 19,000 fans created a buzz inside MSG when replays of the final sequence showed that Ogenda perfectly timed the block, with the ball not hitting the backboard or being above the cylinder when the block took place. The call was eventually overturned, as joyous celebrations on the Seton Hall bench became overwhelming excitement on the other end as the Blue Demons players bounced off and away into the locker room.
Just like that, DePaul’s 12-game losing streak was over. And just like that, Seton Hall’s fate in missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time is now fait accompli.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Wednesday’s first round, with the photos taken by ALOST photographer Jenny Rohl. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 11 pictures in total.