NEW YORK — The play didn’t go as planned, but the result was stunning.
Guard Sterling Gibbs’ jumper from the top of the key at the buzzer gave Seton Hall a 64-63 over No. 3 Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
“It ended up being a little bit of a scramble,” said Gibbs, whose game-winner sent Seton Hall (17-16) into the tournament semifinals for the first time since 2001. “The plan kind of got switched up a little. In the end, it was supposed to get in my hands and I was supposed to create a shot for myself and I just stepped back and hit the jumper.”
Gibbs revealed he received a text from his older brother Ashton, who played at Pitt and now plays overseas. It simply said, “It better go in,” while Sterling’s shot was in the air.
Guard Darrun Hilliard’s spinning layup in the lane with 11 seconds left had given top-seeded Villanova (28-4) a brief 63-62 edge before Seton Hall pushed the ball past half-court, then called timeout with 3.7 seconds left.
“We usually don’t like to call timeouts,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said of the final moments. “We usually like just to go, but I wanted the ball at that time in Sterling’s hands.”
Freshman guard Jaren Sina inbounded to Gibbs, who backed off Hilliard, and he then drilled the 17-foot jumper. A fired-up Gibbs, who transferred from Texas, jumped onto the scorer’s table and looked up at the crowd as his teammates raced onto to the court to celebrate.
Seton Hall was led by center Eugene Teague, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Freshman guard Josh Hart came off the Wildcats’ bench to score 18 points.
Villanova became the first No. 1 seed to fall in the quarterfinals since No. 9 Connecticut upset Pitt 76-74 in 2011. The loss probably deprives Villanova of a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“This was not about one seeds or two seeds,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “This was about wanting to come to Madison Square Garden and win the Big East tournament. Winning the Big East tournament would mean much more to than a No. 1 seed.”
Guard Fuquan Edwin’s jumper put the Pirates ahead 57-55, but a free throw and dunk from Hilliard in two straight possessions helped Villanova re-take the lead at 58-57 with 1:57 to play.
The Pirates fought off a huge run by Villanova, staging an 8-2 spurt to move ahead 55-50 with 4:49 to go. Teague, fighting a bad cold, scored five in the run.
The Wildcats went on a 16-0 run to take their first lead of the second half, 47-44, with 8:03 to play. Hilliard tied the score on a layup that put Villanova in the lead with a 3-pointer. Seton Hall went 7:15 without a basket before Edwin’s 3-pointer tied it at 47-47 with 6:59 to play.
“We never really got rattled,” Willard said about his team’s ability to sustain Villanova’s runs. “These guys have showed great character all year. They’ve battled through injuries and tough losses.”
Seton Hall suffered five losses by one point and won three by a point this season.
Seton Hall, the eighth seed, was playing its second game in 16 hours. The Pirates defeated Butler 51-50 in the first round Wednesday night, but had fresh legs despite the quick turnaround.
Solid ball distribution was the recipe for Seton Hall’s 34-26 halftime lead. The Pirates had five players combine for six assists. Forward Patrik Auda was an interior forcer, connecting on 6 of 7 shots for 13 points.
Villanova made only seven of their 26 field goals which led to their lowest halftime score this season.
With the score knotted at 9-9, the Pirates used a 21-6 run to take a 30-15 lead with 7:19 left in the half. Seton Hall connected on three of its four 3-point attempts in the spurt.
The Wildcats dealt the Pirates two lopsided losses in the regular season, but couldn’t put them away with late-game runs on Thursday.
“They’re a very, very good offensive team,” Wright said about Seton Hall. “I thought they played smart defense
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