NEW YORK, NY — It was classic Big East in the new Big East Thursday. Major reconfiguration for the league in 2014 didn't prevent a matchup of two of the original squads from having a throwback affair in the quarterfinal finals of this year's Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. Top-seated Villanova, the number three ranked team in the country, lost 64-63, on a buzzer beater to the 8th seeded Seton Hall.
"That was a great college basketball game," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “Great atmosphere. The Garden was rocking."
The Pirates are considered the best college team in New Jersey, coached by Westfield resident Kevin Willard. The game winner was made by Scotch Plains native Sterling Gibbs. Gibbs’ last-second heroics places him right there with Syracuse's Gerry McNamara and UConn's Kemba Walker who will long be remembered for their end of game theatrics.
“It was big time,” said the sophomore Gibbs, who finished with 10 points and six assists. “You beat the number three team in the country, it's always a good feeling.”
The crowd in the Garden was feeling it as well. The game featured nine ties and eight lead changes, so it’s no wonder that the contest would be decided with the ball in the air as the final buzzer sounded. Villanova's Darrun Hillard made a jump shot with seven seconds left to put Nova up 63-62.
After a time out, Seton Hall got the ball back with 3.5 seconds left. Gibbs received the inbounds pass and began his move with the ball. With the defense leaving him no option but to shoot. Sterling did just that—drilling the ball from near the top of the key.
“It ended up being a bit of a scramble,” said Gibbs. “In the end, it was supposed to be in my hands, and I was supposed to create a shot for my teammates or myself, and I just stepped back and hit the jumper.”
As soon as the shot fell, Sterling instinctively jumped on the top of the scorers table and the celebration began for Seton Hall players and fans, while the once boisterous Villanova fans walked out silently.
Next up for Seton Hall is a Friday night semi-final match up against Providence. And with two more wins, amazingly, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. For a team that had a 6-12 league record the only one not seemingly surprised by these recent developments is Coach Willard.
“I think we had six one-point losses,” said Willard. “I just think it's the character of these guys. They showed up every night. And they've played extremely hard. So for these guys to get some success for all the effort and hard work they put in, as a coach, that's what you're most happy about.”
Mike Cohen is a sports writer for Education Update and the founder and director of Throwback Sports, a Westfield-based individual and small group sports program for children. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org