Seton Hall-Xavier Preview
Sophomores Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington seem unstoppable and they have Seton Hall on the verge of its first Big East tournament championship game in 23 years.
Standing in the way is Xavier, which is hoping to reach the title game for a chance at redemption.
Whitehead and Carrington should expect a lot of attention from the fifth-ranked Musketeers in this semifinal matchup Friday night.
Whitehead is second in the conference with 18.1 points per game, but he's been far more productive over the last five games. The guard has averaged 26.2 points on 46.3 percent shooting, including 20 of 44 from 3-point range, during that span.
Carrington isn't far behind at 20.7 in the past three contests, a stretch during which he's connected on 51.1 percent from the field and 10 of 23 from long range.
The Brooklyn natives were right at home at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, combining for 51 points as third-seeded Seton Hall (23-8) reached the semifinals with an 81-73 victory over Creighton.
Whitehead fell four assists shy of a triple double with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Carrington had a career-high 27 points, going 10 for 17 from the field and 5 for 9 from long range to help the Pirates win for the 10th time in 12 tries.
"I'm home playing in front of my friends and my family," Carrington said. "It felt a lot like home. We're right over the bridge. Right next to New Jersey. A lot of us are from New York. So there was a lot of Pirates fans here. A lot of friends and a lot of family."
Seton Hall split two season meetings with Xavier (27-4) but the comforts of home served the Pirates well in a 90-81 victory Feb. 28. Whitehead had 22 points and Desi Rodriguez set career highs with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
"Second time we played them I think everybody played well," said Carrington, who was limited to seven points off the bench. "We just got to focus on beating the 1-3-1 they play. Getting out and go. Once we get out and go I think we can beat anybody. That's when we're playing our best."
The Musketeers beat Creighton in their regular-season finale and opened this tournament Thursday with a 90-72 rout of Marquette. Another win would give them a chance to play for the title for a second consecutive season, and there's potential for a repeat matchup with last year's champion Villanova facing Providence in the other semifinal.
Although Xavier's offense was more than capable Thursday with 90 points and 53.0 percent shooting, it was defense that keyed the victory. The Musketeers limited the Golden Eagles to 38.1 percent shooting - Xavier's best mark in five games - and 3 of 18 from beyond the arc.
"We know the way we've been defending those past three games, those won't win us any championships," said guard Trevon Bluiett, who matched his career high with 24 points. "So we realized that and we know that every game we come out we have to play our best."
Bluiett is averaging 19.3 points on 51.2 percent from the field - 11 of 22 from long range - over the past three games.
Seton Hall last appeared in the Big East championship game in 1993 when it beat Syracuse.