Friars Top Creighton 65-58, Win Big East Championship
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Ed Cooley said before the season began, that his Providence Friars were talented enough to win a championship.
Looking over his roster list at the time, it was a hard point to argue. But after injury, adversity and attrition that plagued the roster in the early part of the schedule, Cooley and his staff figured out a way to not only keep the team competitive, but to actually win that championship. Providence used a superb game plan to stop (ok, slow down) Doug McDermott and the Creighton Blue Jays 65-58 at Madison Square Garden in New York to claim the 2014 Big East Tournament title.
Old school Big East beats New School? Holy. Moly.
“It feels great,” said guard Bryce Cotton, who was named the Dave Gavitt Trophy winner as tournament MVP. “Given everything what this team has gone through, all the adversity, obstacles we faced…for us to reach this moment now we’re just going to cherish it for the time being.”
Cotton and the Friars knew coming into the finals against 2nd seeded (and 14th nationally ranked) Creighton that somehow, someway they needed to slow down a rampaging Blue Jays’ offense that averages 80 points per game, and leads the nation in three-point shooting (43%). McDermott, the nation’s leading scorer at nearly 27 points per game, is a huge part of that effort. So the focus of the PC defense effort was to control the pace and tempo of the game – and play a zone.
A zone against a great shooting team? Maybe a radical idea, but the Friars’ zone has been their best defense for most of the season, and extending out to the Blue Jays’ shooters caused Creighton some confusion and slowed down their usually-rapid pace. “Everybody thought we were crazy probably trying to play one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country zone, but because of Dougie, you always have to have a man and a half around him,” Cooley said. A McDermott layup gave CU a 9-8 lead with 11:07 to play in the first half, with the Friars controlling the tempo from the opening tip. Cotton grabbed the lead right back less than a minute later with a drive to the hoop of his own – and incredibly, the Jays’ would not lead again.
PC’s defense limited Creighton to 34% shooting in the first half, and a paltry 1-for-12 from the three-point stripe. The Jays’ totaled a season-low 17 points in a half - also their lowest total in a half in 13 years - and trailed by nine (26-17) at the break. Tyler Harris scored nine points to lead PC, while the defense held McDermott to just seven points.
“We wanted to slow the game down on offense,” according to LaDontae Henton, “and make sure we played our pace. For us to play zone against a good three-point shooting team, it goes to show how our coaches believe in us and how we can take the three away against a great shooting team.”
Certainly the slower pace caused some consternation amongst the Blue Jays players and fans. Senior sharp-shooter Ethan Wragge finally got untracked and nailed a deep three in the opening three minutes of the second half to get CU within four, but the Friars stayed with the game plan and never sped up their own tempo, despite the Jays’ repeated attempts to get up the floor quickly. A Harris steal and Cotton layup pushed the lead back out to eight before the first media time out, then Cotton hit back-to-back threes – taking a foul on the second one for a four point play – to stretch the lead to 11 at 40-29 with 14:15 to go.
Even as McDermott began to slowly find his range, he didn’t get much help from his teammates. Five straight McDermott points pulled CU within five, 52-47, with 7:15 remaining…and a trey from 6th year senior Grant Gibbs made it a four-point game with 3:32 on the clock. Every time the Jays got close, Cotton was there to answer the challenge. Yet McDermott turned up the heat on the PC defense with consecutive long-range threes to pull Creighton within 58-56 and only 1:17 to go, before the Friars found a big shot of their own.
Henton connected on a 16-foot jumper from the wing that looked almost like a pass at first into the post intended for Harris…but his shot slid through the net to push PC’s lead back to four with less than a minute to play. Henton, Josh Fortune and Harris all hit free throws down the stretch to put the game away, and hand Providence its first Big East title in 20 years…since Michael Smith, Dickey Simpkins, Rob Phelps, Abdul Abdullah, Eric Williams and a young Austin Croshere led PC to its’ first crown in 1994 by beating Georgetown.
“It’s just a vindicating feeling to know that the Providence Friars are Big East champions,” Cotton said. “This is something that our school and our city hasn’t seen for a long time. For us to finally bring that back home, it’s at the top of the list.”
Maybe, Bryce. But along with that championship, your name belongs right up there at the top of that list, with the other Friar greats from days gone by. It’s your championship, too.
Cotton led PC (23-11) with 23 points and as mentioned above, claimed the Dave Gavitt trophy as the tournament MVP despite shooting just 6-for-24 in the first two games against St. John’s and Seton Hall. He was 8-for-18 against Creighton…Fortune and Harris each had 10 points for PC, while Henton finished with nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Cotton, Henton, Fortune and Harris played all 40 minutes in the game...Henton was also named to the all-tournament team, along with McDermott (27 points) and Austin Chatman (four points, eight assists) for the Blue Jays…Seton Hall’s Eugene Teague and Xavier’s Semaj Christon were also named to the team…for the game, Creighton shot just 8-for-30 from three (26%), well below their nation-leading average of 42%. Overall, CU managed just 43% from the floor against the Friar defense, and averaged better than 50% coming in…PC won the game from the line, as the nation’s #1 foul-shooting team hit 23-of-26 (88%) from the stripe, and outrebounded the Jays 32-29…from Creighton head coach Greg McDermott: “Obviously, they’ve (PC) overcome a tremendous amount of adversity this season and to their credit, they continue to forge forward. So although I hate to lose in a game like this, if I have to lose, losing to someone like Ed Cooley is as good as it could possibly be…” Creighton (26-7) was gunning for its 3rd straight post-season title, after having won the last two they played as members of the Missouri Valley Conference…as Big East champs, Providence receives the automatic bid to next week’s NCAA Tournament. The Friars will await their seeding and their destination Sunday night, and the team is sponsoring a tournament selection show viewing at 5:30 pm at Alumni Hall on campus for all Friar fans, free of charge...
Courtesy of WEEI-FM 103.7 and Learfield Sports
John Rooke and Joe Hassett - Providence vs. Creighton @ Madison Square Garden, NY