Friars punch Pirates 80-74, advance to title game
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Through all of the adversity a season can present - and the Providence Friars have had some this year - there has been a constant, steadying influence on the floor.
Without 1st team all-Big East guard Bryce Cotton on the floor for 40 minutes per game, or Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton, Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers inside, or Josh Fortune raining threes late in the season...well, perhaps you get the point. It's truly been a team effort, especially at Madison Square Garden in New York this week...and the Friars are going to play for a 2nd ever Big East Championship in their 87-year program history after beating Seton Hall 80-74.
"It's just a great opportunity for our team," Friar head coach Ed Cooley said. "I thought our kids were prepared (tonight), and we played with a purpose. We had played Seton Hall twice this year, but we never played them at full strength."
Early against the Pirates, who had upset top-seeded Villanova on a buzzer-beater by Sterling Gibbs Thursday night, the Friars found themselves in a back-and-forth game with six lead changes in the opening six minutes. Providence then went on a 12-0 run to open up an 11 point lead with 11:21 to go, led by Henton inside, and outside threes from Fortune and Harris. SHU closed to five on a couple of occasions, but PC still led by 11 with 5:51 left after two Henton free throws.
Seton Hall managed to close within four at halftime with Eugene Teague in the paint, and Brian Oliver canned a trey with one second left to bring the game closer at 38-34 after the first 20 minutes.
The Friars opened the second half with a 7-2 run after a Harris three from the corner for a 45-36 lead, but the Pirates managed to keep the score manageable, never going down by more than 11. The lead was still 11 with 3:19 remaining when the Pirates put the squeeze on PC. Gibbs, Brandon Mobley and Fuquan Edwin helped SHU get within striking distance after an Edwin three made it 72-66 with 1:24 to play. Free throws - and a big inside move from Henton with 55 seconds left, finally gave the Friars the breathing room they needed.
"This was one of our goals coming into the season," Henton said. "Madison Square Garden, it's a big place to play at, a great place to play at, and we just wanted to come in here and we know we can compete with all of the teams. Coach just made a point of emphasis of playing real hard, coming out with effort, and that's what we've tried to do."
"I'm thinking about the moment. I'm in the moment right now," Cooley added. "You know what I mean?"
Absolutely. Providence (22-11) finished the game by hitting nine of their final 14 attempts from the floor, with clutch scores coming whenever SHU seemed ready to make a run. And it wasn't just Cotton's play that was key - although his play certainly was. Most of his teammates contributed Friday night as well, without reliance on a single soul to deliver them to a championship game appearance. The team effort paid off.
And the team effort has them on the cusp of a truly memorable moment in Friartown.
Henton had a monster game for Providence, with 26 points and 14 rebounds, his 3rd straight double-double and 2nd in this tournament in two games...he is the 3rd PC player to post back-to-back double-doubles in the Big East Tournament, joining Ryan Gomes and Otis Thorpe...Cotton also had a double-double performance with 18 points and 10 assists (his 3rd of the season), even though his shooting struggles continued (just 5-of-14 from the floor, 6-24 in the tourney)...Harris also picked up his scoring with 17 points, 14 in the second half including two huge threes that served as momentum busters with the Pirates playing from behind...foul trouble plagued the PC big men, as Batts fouled out with 1:14 left (8 points, 3 boards) and Desrosiers also fouled out with just over six minutes left, without scoring a point (4 rebounds, 2 blocks)...Seton Hall finishes its season 17-17 with the surprise semifinal appearance, and was led by Edwin's 20 points, 13 from Gibbs and Teague with 11 - who was held to just two in the second half...PC makes its first appearance in a Big East championship game since 1994, facing Creighton, an 86-78 winner over Xavier. Doug McDermott led the Blue Jays with 32 points. The Friars split their season series with CU, and won their only other title game appearance, beating Georgetown 74-64...tip-off will be at 8:30 Saturday night (8:15 pre-game on 103.7 and friars.com)...want some good karma? Providence was also the #4 seed in the tournament when they defeated Georgetown in 1994...