In the 10-team Big East, the Seton Hall Pirates finished eighth in the conference’s preseason poll, and were just one point away from Creighton, who was voted to come in ninth.
So their encounter against ninth-ranked Kentucky at Madison Square Garden was viewed as little more than an opportunity...for Kentucky to be showcased in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
By the grace of Myles Powell, the New Jersey-based squad became the centerpiece of one of college basketball’s biggest upsets so far this season. Even talkative opposing head coach John Calipari was left relatively speechless.
“I’m like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,” he remarked at the post-game press conference, with his hands out, arms shrugging.
That was the appropriate reaction to Powell’s fadeaway, double-clutch three-pointer with 1.1 seconds left, giving the Pirates a 70-67 lead.
And then, Kentucky star Keldon Johnson – a likely one-and-done NBA’er to be, who had a grand total of two points at the time - sunk a Hail Mary half-court heave, which sent the game into overtime.
Seton Hall was frozen, as Kentucky celebrated as if they had just won the game.
“I was in front of him like, ‘No way is that going in,’” said Myles Cale. “Then it went in. Then I’m looking at coach like, ‘Did I do something wrong?’”
Then in overtime, it was Cale who nailed a go-ahead three with less than 10 seconds left, pushing the Pirates to an 84-83 victory.
“I was trying to get them to go trap,” Calipari said of his team defensively. “They were not trusting me. The inexperience that we have kind of showed, but when you fight and you defend like we did in the first half, we’ll be fine.”
Even Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard couldn’t fully restrain his excitement after the big win.
“There was a little kid running around the court, his mom and dad were taking pictures,” the Huntington, New York, native said. “He’ll remember that for the rest of his life.”
Willard said that within the confines of MSG, you’re reminded of the history and fueled by the nostalgia.
“I loved this game,” said Willard. “The fact that it was Kentucky was huge, but to get them in the Garden, get them Garden experience, to get them ready for the Big East tournament, there’s something special about this place.”
The win drops Kentucky to 7-2, and elevates Seton Hall to 6-3. The Pirates will begin Big East Play hosting St. John’s on December 29 in Newark’s Prudential Center.