Live from the Big East Tournament: Semifinals an odd combination of old and new

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Two original Big East teams meet in the first game, while two teams playing their first year in the league battle in the second. SB Nation's GIF Tournament V

This year, Friday night at the Garden will be the perfect blend of old and new. It will feature a favorite and a Cinderella. Two teams fighting for a bid and a team hoping to keep its season alive. Players with New York roots, and others who had never seen MSG until this year.

Friday night will be a lot of things, but it will be anything but typical.

The first game in the Big East Tournament semifinals will feature Providence and Seton Hall. Both are founding members of the conference. Neither has sniffed the semifinals in well over a decade.

Higher Education

The Pirates reached penultimate round with a pair of one-point wins. They beat Butler 51-50 on Wednesday, then upset top seed Villanova on a Sterling Gibbs buzzer-beater barely 15 hours later.

It's their first trip to the semis since 2001.

"I really thought if we could get past Butler, we could beat anybody," head coach Kevin Willard said. "It's a tough matchup for us. They defend really well on us and I thought, if we could get past them, we could get some momentum and just keep going."

The Pirates draw a Providence team that they split with during the regular season, with each team winning on the other's home floor. Most recently, the Friars won by five in Newark behind 17 second-half points from Bryce Cotton.

On Thursday however, it was Josh Fortune who led the way for Providence, dropping 24 on St. John's as the Friars held off a furious Red Storm comeback down the stretch.

This is the first time Providence has reached Friday since 1997.

"I'm excited to advance because that's what tournament play is all about," Friars coach Ed Cooley said. "I couldn't be more proud of this group. We're excited to play Seton Hall tomorrow."

Creighton vs. Xavier, 9:30 p.m.

The Bluejays and Musketeers take the court in the nightcap, each team playing in its inaugural Big East saeson. Creighton advanced behind a tournament-record 27 first-half points from Doug McDermott in an 82-64 drubbing of DePaul, while Xavier held off Marquette in the final seconds, 68-65.

After his game, McDermott reflected on his team's first year in the Big East.

"It still doesn't all feel real," he said. "This season just flew by. It's just great for our university. I wanted to come back to school to set the tone here for our moving to the Big East."

Creighton's 15 conference wins were the most ever for a team in its first year in the Big East. But in order for the Bluejays to notch another tournament victory and move to the championship game, they will have to get by the Musketeers, who have already beaten them once this month.

Semaj Christon played all 40 minutes on March 1, leading Xavier to a 75-69 home upset with 21 points. He added another 18 on Thursday against Marquette, while Justin Martin poured on 19 more.

Xavier coach Chris Mack acknowledged after the game that it would be difficult to shut down a player of the year candidate like McDermott, so Christon and Martin might both need another big night to match the Bluejays' firepower.

"Every night is going to be a big game," Christon said. "You've got to be ready."

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