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Friars lose a heartbreaker to Heels, 79-77

Saturday, March 22, 2014


If a player could choose a way to end his career, and not win, perhaps Bryce Cotton would choose his game Friday night against North Carolina.

Cotton put on his Superman cape and did his very best - better than his previous best, in fact - and had the Providence Friars in position to beat the Tar Heels and advance to Sunday's 3rd round in San Antonio, TX.  The Tar Heels, however, also have some pretty good players...and their 1st team all-ACC guard Marcus Paige stepped up at the end and helped the Heels hold off the Friars 79-77 at the AT&T Center.

But Cotton's night was, in a word, terrific.  A career high 36 points, with 23 coming in the second half, helped the Friars come back from as much as a nine-point 2nd period deficit.  The problem, however, was Carolina's length and rebounding strength.  UNC pounded Providence on the backboards with a 40-26 advantage, and 21 offensive rebounds for 26 2nd chance points.

Ultimately, it was too much to overcome.

"You know, we recovered from some mistakes," Friar head coach Ed Cooley said afterward.  "We went with a bigger lineup to try to slow down some of their perimeter shooting and thought it worked for a second.  You know, they had the ball at the right time and made a timely play."

That they did, as PC fought back from a three point halftime deficit (39-36) and from trailing by nine with 11:10 remaining.  Providence then switched to primarily a larger lineup, taking Josh Fortune out and inserting Kadeem Batts into the five that also included Carson Desrosiers, LaDontae Henton and Cotton.  What resulted was a 22-6 PC run that gave the Friars a 71-64 lead with 4:34 left.

And they couldn't hold it.  It was the first time all season that the Friars had a lead with less than five minutes to play...and lost.

"We didn't play smart in some instances," Cooley said.  "We needed some length. They had 21 offensive rebounds, I mean, they hammered us on the glass."

North Carolina's Paige hit two three's during the final minutes, along with a Brice Johnson dunk to help lock the score at 71 with 2:55 remaining, but with the Friars scratching out a 77-74 advantage with 1:18 left, Carolina's length is what got them over the hump.  After Cotton hit three free throws for a 74-71 margin, Paige hit a trey to tie the score at 77 with 1:06 left.  Then, after Henton (16 points, 11 rebounds) drove inside and missed a short bank shot, UNC's James McAdoo was fouled by Desrosiers on a put-back attempt with just three seconds on the clock.

McAdoo hit one of two, but after the second shot missed, the Friars could not corral the rebound.  Carolina did, got one more free throw...and that ended PC's season.

"When you're in these type of games, your discipline and attention to detail has to come in," Cooley said, "and we had two really, really bad plays at the end of the game because we didn't even get a chance to shoot the ball.  Crazy things happen in March, and I was hoping for one last miracle."

Friar fans, perhaps, were hoping for one more game out of Cotton, who wraps up his four years in Providence on the career high note...as the school's 5th leading scorer all-time. "That's still sinking in, as we speak," Cotton said. "It's been a crazy year, so many ups and downs.  Even though it hurts, we still have a lot to be thankful for, but right now, this definitely hurts a lot."

Even Superman has emotions, and his weaknesses.  But it was a heck of a show on the bright stage in San Antonio, even if it didn't turn out the way he - or Friar fans - would have liked.  Carson Desrosiers put it very simply - "He's one of the best players in the country.  I'm glad we were able to make the tournament and show the country his capabilities."

That...he certainly did.

Friar Notes

Providence ends the season 23-12 overall, with their 2nd Big East Tournament title in school history...it's the third straight time that PC has lost its first NCAA game (including the last two appearances, in 2004 and 2001).  The last NCAA win came in 1997, against Tennessee-Chattanooga in the Sweet 16...for Cotton, his 36 points was a career high in his final game, the 6th 30+ game of his career and his 25th this season with 20 points or more...the 36 matched the most ever in UNC's storied history scored against them in an NCAA tournament (Harold Arceneaux scored 36 for Weber State in 1999)...the performance, to date, is the 2nd highest total scored by a player in this year's tourney, after Michigan State's Adreian Payne scored 41 against Delaware...Henton contributed his 6th double-double of the season, and 26th of his career - also his 4th in the last six games to end the season...PC hit its' first five shots, 8 of the first 10 in the game, and still couldn't pull away from a hot-shooting Tar Heel team.  Plus, their 26 second chance points was the 2nd highest total for UNC this season...UNC (24-9) has now won at least one game in each of its last 12 NCAA appearances, dating back to '99...Paige led the Heels with 19 points, four teammates finished in double-figures (Brice Johnson 16, McAdoo 16 points & 10 boards, Kennedy Meeks 12 and J.P. Tokoto 10)...Providence outshot Carolina 53% to 46% from the floor, and 81% to 69% from the line, but the rebounding totals (40-26 UNC) and second-chance points (26-13) were the difference...North Carolina has five players on the roster 6-9 or taller...Tyler Harris was the only other Friar to hit double figures with 13 points...Batts spent much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, and finished his career with eight points and just one rebound...PC hit 12 of their last 19 from the floor, and still couldn't hold on at the end...there were seven ties and eight lead changes in the game...Cotton also finished with five rebounds and eight assists, to go along with his 36-point night...


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