The action returned to TD Arena for Sunday night's Charleston Classic championship game between the Seton Hall Pirates (3-1) and the Northwestern Wildcats (4-0). In the first two rounds of the tournament, it had been senior John Shurna and junior Drew Crawford coming up big for the Wildcats in their two victories, while solid play from the senior duo of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope propelled the Pirates to the championship round.
In their run to the championship, Seton Hall took down VCU and St. Joseph's, and both teams had trouble containing Seton Hall big man Herb Pope. At the start of Sunday night's finale, it appeared Northwestern would face similar problems, as Pope bodied Wildcat defenders for a few early baskets, accounting for eight of the Pirates' 11 points five minutes into the game.
However, Northwestern's defense tightened up, and while the Pirates were still able to get position in the post, they were forced into a series of bad shots. On the other end, it was Wildcat senior Luka Mirkovic having his way down low, giving his team a 22-20 lead with 7:32 remaining in the first. Crawford connected with Shurna on a nice backdoor cut and followed it up with a floater in the lane to put the Wildcats up by six. A lay-in from Mirkovic made it 28-20, forcing Pirates' head coach Kevin Willard to burn a time-out.
After the time-out, a tightly contested three by freshman Haralds Karlis and a tough pull-up jumper by Theodore cut the Wildcat lead to three with under five in the first. Tight perimeter defense by the Pirates limited Northwestern for most of the first half, but back-to-back threes by Crawford with under 90 seconds remaining extended the Wildcat's lead to 10 going into the break. Going three for five from three-point land in the first.
The Pirates came out of the locker room with an intense full-court pressure, which allowed them two easy buckets, quickly cutting their deficit to six. Just as easily as they narrowed the gap, the Wildcats widened it back to 10 on a three from Crawford that he banked in with two defenders in his face. When the lead grew to 12, Willard took a time-out, and Pope bellowed out, "Come on now, I'm not gonna lose this game!" With 13:30 to go, he had 26 of the Pirates' 48 points, and they had cut the Wildcat lead to six.
The momentum was clearly shifting, and sophomore Fuquan Edwin's offensive rebound and put-back on an airball from freshman Aaron Cosby slimmed the lead to four. The next time down the court, an explosive drive and finish from Theodore made it a one-possession game, 54-52, with 11:50 on the clock. Great ball movement led to a wide open three from freshman Aaron Cosby, giving the Pirates their first lead of the second half, 55-54.
A tip-in by Wildcat senior Davide Curletti, who had been quiet most of the tournament, gave the lead back to Northwestern with 6:17 to play. The battle for the championship remained neck-and-neck down the stretch, and both teams were dead even at 67 with 3:20 remaining.
The Wildcats had pulled ahead by four with two minutes left, but there was little panic among Seton Hall players. With the Pirates in the double bonus, though, each foul put Northwestern on the line for two shots, allowing them to extend the lead to six approaching the one-minute mark. Defensive pressure from the Wildcats forced a Pirates turnover with less than 30 seconds on the clock, and Shurna's decisive slam at the other end was pretty much the nail in the coffin for Seton Hall.
With a final score of 80-73, the Northwestern Wildcats topped the Seton Hall Pirates for the Charleston Classic championship. Even with 32 points from Pope, the Pirates fell short. However, Pope was named one of the tournament's outstanding players, and the Pirates definitely established themselves as a team to look out for this season, and their fans stood to applaud their efforts. The Wildcats showed resiliency as they lost the lead several times but fought back, earning their championship trophy. Their leading scorer, Drew Crawford with 27 points, was named the tournament MVP. The final game of the tournament had no shortage of excitement, wrapping up a competitive few days of college basketball in Charleston.