Seton Hall, St. John's set for Big East battle

·3 min read

St. John's and Seton Hall boast the Big East top's two scorers in Julian Champagnie and Sandro Mamukelashvili, but both teams likely need to make some noise in the Big East tournament to see their NCAA Tournament aspirations become a reality.

The teams begin their quests to improve their NCAA Tournament chances Thursday afternoon when fourth-seeded St. John's faces fifth-seeded Seton Hall in a quarterfinal contest at Madison Square Garden.

The winner will meet either top-seeded Villanova or the winner of the Georgetown-Marquette matchup in Friday's semifinals.

Champagnie led the league at 19.9 points per game to help St. John's (16-10, 10-9) become a top-four seed in the Big East tournament for the first time since winning the 2000 championship as a third seed. The Red Storm are in the quarterfinals for the fifth straight season, and by virtue of a strong conclusion to the regular season, they earned a bye to the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2015.

"It's a one-game season now," St. John's coach Mike Anderson said Wednesday. "You look at Seton Hall's record over the course of the last two, three years in tournament play, it's been pretty good. So we know we're going to get the best version of Seton Hall. So we got to be at our best version as well."

St. John's was picked ninth in the Big East preseason poll and ended the regular season with 10 wins in its past 14 contests, including a six-game winning streak from Jan. 18 to Feb. 6 that featured wins over ranked foes UConn and Villanova. The Red Storm slumped a little following the six-game win streak by losing three of four but overcame slow starts with consecutive home wins over Providence and Seton Hall.

In Saturday's 81-71 win over Seton Hall, the Red Storm allowed the game's first 18 points before outscoring the Pirates 53-33 after halftime. Champagnie scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half for his 11th 20-point game this season.

"In our minds, we're a tournament team. Our hopes are high for this tournament," Champagnie said.

The Red Storm played their last two games without standout freshman Posh Alexander (thumb), who led the Big East with 2.6 steals per game. Alexander said he is feeling better, and he will be able to play Thursday.

Seton Hall (13-12, 10-9) is a top-five seed for the fifth straight season and is seeking its fourth trip in five years to the semifinals. The Pirates ended the regular season with four straight losses and lost seven of their last 11 games.

During the four-game skid, Seton Hall averaged 64 points, shot 40.6 percent and made 27 percent of its 3-pointers while allowing opponents to shoot 47.9 percent.

"I'm always excited about the Big East tournament. We've been very successful there the last four years, five years, six years, seven years," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "I have a lot of confidence in this team; we're just not playing 40 minutes right now and that's really hurting us."

Mamukelashvili, who shared Big East Player of the Year honors in a three-way split with Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Collin Gillespie, scored 15 points Saturday at St. John's and averaged 17.8 points this season.

--Field Level Media