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NEW YORK, N.Y. – A third meeting of the season with the Seton Hall Pirates (21-10 overall, 10-8 BIG EAST) is on the menu for the No. 2 ranked Villanova Wildcats in a Friday evening semifinal at the BIG EAST Tournament. The contest gets underway at 6:30 p.m. The night will conclude with the second semifinal at Madison Square Garden, featuring No. 6 seed Creighton and No. 7 seed Xavier.
The Wildcats, who advanced with a 108-67 victory over St. John’s in a Thursday afternoon quarterfinal, defeated the Pirates on Jan. 16 at the Pavilion (76-48) and on Feb. 18 at the Prudential Center (92-70) at the Prudential Center across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J.
Yet Seton Hall has pulled out close victories in the last two meetings between these squads in this event in Manhattan. In 2013-14, the top seeded Wildcats were knocked off by the Hall when Sterling Gibbs sank a buzzer beating jump shot to secure a 64-63 triumph. Last season, the Pirates Isaiah Whitehead was the hero in thriller than wounded up in the Hall’s win column, 69-67, in the BIG EAST championship game.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright liked his team’s energy in Thursday’s win and thought the fact his unit had played just one game in the previous 11 days played a role in that. So too did the return to health of senior forward Darryl Reynolds, who missed five games with a rib injury before returning to action last weekend at Georgetown.
“When we originally looked at the schedule in September and saw that, we thought that it was going to be tough,” he stated. “No teams like to practice for a week. When we came upon that week, after having played five games with basically six guys, we really needed it. Our guys did a great job and our trainer Jeff Pierce and strength coach John Shackleton did a great job helping our guys get their legs back.
“Then we added Darryl and we’ve come into this tournament fresh.”
Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo, who was part of a Villanova bench that provided 52 points Thursday (25 points for the Delaware native, 17 for Eric Paschall and 10 from Dylan Painter), pointed to seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Reynolds in explaining his effort.
“The only thing I can say about the 25 is that it is all because of the seniors and Jalen (Brunson),” DiVincenzo stated. “Everybody was making the right play. I found myself open and I was knocking down shots (Thursday).”
The winner of Friday night’s contest moves on to the BIG EAST title game, set for 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.