March 3, 2023
BIG EAST Tournament notebook: Day 1 action from Uncasville
Georgetown, DePaul and Seton Hall survive and advance.
Mohegan Sun arena, the summer home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, is heating up early by hosting the 2023 BIG EAST Tournament for the third consecutive season. The BIG EAST is more competitive than it has been in several years, with five teams expected to make the NCAA field per ESPN’s bracketology.
Since perennial powerhouse UConn re-entered the conference prior to the 2020-21 season, the gap between the Huskies and the rest of the pack has shrunk. The Huskies (26-5 overall, 18-2 in the BIG EAST) lost two games in-conference this season, just barely securing the regular season title over the second-place Villanova Wildcats (26-5 overall, 17-3 in the BIG EAST). That title could have easily gone to Villanova. UConn’s two losses in conference play this season came against Marquette and St. John’s, and they just narrowly defeated Creighton (62-60) and DePaul (72-69) in February.
Friday’s action featured the bottom half of the BIG EAST draw, but the depth of this conference means there were no easy wins or predictable outcomes on the first day of the tournament. Let’s take a look at how things shook out in Uncasville.
Hoyas upset Bulldogs
Georgetown 53, Butler 46
Both No. 9 seed Georgetown and No. 8 seed Butler entered the BIG EAST Tournament each having compiled a 6-14 record in conference play this season. While Butler defeated Georgetown in their two prior meetings this season, the Hoyas ultimately pulled off the upset behind an efficient scoring effort from junior Jada Claude (17 points, 7-of-12 FG).
“Just trusting in the offense, having my coaches trust me, having my teammates trust me … These past couple of games for me have been pretty well. But that’s not without my teammates. So I think today God was with me, I was hitting my shots,” Claude said postgame.
The Hoyas ultimately won this game on the defensive end, though, holding Butler to 46 total points on 31% shooting. Georgetown was the more physical team and locked down Butler’s attempts to get into an offensive rhythm.
“You’ve got to give credit to Georgetown,” said Butler first-year head coach Austin Parkinson. “They were way more physical than we were on the defensive side of things. And in the second half, I think we gave up 14 second-chance points in the second half. And in a low-scoring game, you can’t give up easy baskets like that.”
Despite the early exit from the tournament, there is reason for Butler to be hopeful. After going 1-27 last season (0-18 in the BIG EAST), the Bulldogs parted ways with then-head coach Kurt Godlevske. Parkinson stepped into an opportunity to turn the program around, taking the Butler job after becoming the winningest coach in IUPUI program history.
“I told the kids I’m really proud. To be one win last year, three before that, to get to 11 wins, to get the eighth seed in the conference tournament our first year,” Parkinson said.
“And I thought these kids fought. And I thought tonight was a microcosm of that. We got down eight or nine. They battled, they battled, they battled. Obviously, we weren’t able to overcome. But it was good momentum going into the offseason, and I think starting two freshmen and a sophomore, it’s encouraging going forward.”
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Morrow shatters another record; Crooms’ consistency
DePaul 67, Providence 54
Another day, another dominant performance from DePaul sophomore Aneesah Morrow. With a made three-point jumper just three minutes into the game, Morrow clinched the DePaul single-season scoring. Morrow ended the game with 26 points and 15 rebounds in 36 minutes, helping to secure a spot for the Blue Demons in the tournament quarterfinals.
“I could kind of feel it before the game starts like I was shooting very well in warm-ups and I knew that I was going to have a great — I was going to shoot great tonight. But the second half, it just shows that we as a team have to play together. And that’s what we did tonight,” Morrow said.
While Providence kept this one competitive through the first quarter, DePaul took over the game in the second quarter and extended their lead to 41-22 at the half. The Friars were unable to close the gap, ultimately dropping the game by double digits.
“[During the] second quarter we settled for some jump shots and didn’t really move the ball offensively or play within our tempo,” said Providence head coach Jim Crowley. “And that got their offense going quite a bit. And then we just dug too big a hole. We gave ourselves a little bit of a chance at times the second half but to their credit, they made plays and kept that separation at that level.”
Providence was led, like they were all season, by senior and 2018 Rhode Island High School Player of the Year Janai Crooms. After graduating from St. Andrews School in Barrington, Rhode Island, Crooms spent two seasons (2018-2020) with Ohio State before transferring to Michigan State (2020-21). She returned to her home state last season and has been the Friars’ go-to star ever since.
“[Janai is] obviously very well known, well known in our state and even nationally. For her to choose our program shows a status that is helpful with where we want to end up,” said coach Crowley. “And I told her, she was the leader of our competitiveness. She always competes. And she just bows really hard and guards multiple people. And when she’s attacking the rim we’re pretty good offensively. And she just doesn’t quit. And that is the one thing we can say about our team.
“So I think she’s implemented that into our program, which I’m really proud of. And, again, just the fact that we can be a destination for high-level people, especially ones looking to get back to New England.”
Pirates cruise to quarterfinal rematch with Creighton
Seton Hall 84, Xavier 58
Seton Hall started tournament play with its foot on the gas pedal. Pirates point guard Lauren Park-Lane matched the number of points (12 points) that the entire Xavier team scored in the opening quarter, and Seton Hall took control of this one early on. Park-Lane led all scorers with 26 points in a dominant win, and seniors Jayla Jordan (12 points) and Victoria Keenan (18 points) had big contributions off the bench.
For Xavier, the loss ended a 7-23 season during which the squad went winless (0-20) in conference play. Xavier struggled all season but ended the regular season with a bright spot, falling against conference No. 1 UConn by just nine points, 60-51, on Monday. On Friday, it was senior Courtney Prenger (19 points) and junior Mackayla Scarlett (18 points) who were the bright spots for the No. 11 seed.
The Seton Hall win sets the stage for an intriguing quarterfinals rematch with the No. 3 seed Creighton Bluejays. Last season, the Pirates defeated Creighton 66-65 in a dramatic BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinal matchup in Uncasville.
According to Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella, the Creighton and Seton Hall matchup has emerged as a conference rivalry since last season.
“We beat them in [the conference tournament] and had a lot of bad blood during the game, elbows and stuff,” Bozzella said of last season’s epic quarterfinal.
This season, the Bluejays defeated the Pirates in both regular season match-ups. In January, Creighton soundly defeated Seton Hall 75-53 in Omaha and clinched a 77-64 win on Seton Hall’s home court at Walsh Gymnasium.
Still, it’s hard to count out the Pirates, especially coming off a resounding first-round win. Seniors Lauren Park-Lane and Sidney Cooks are the heart and soul of this team, and they want to make some noise this postseason. Expect a tight contest in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.