Story highlights include:
- PC nearly blows another second half lead at Nova
- February has been cruel, with Providence going 4-18 the past three seasons
- Fortune triggers comebacks early and late
- Bryce Cotton’s monster year continues to get better and better
This felt familiar.
Providence fell apart at Villanova a year ago in what might have been their worst loss of the season. Riding a scorching start from Bryce Cotton last season (who made six 3 pointers in the first half alone), the Friars led by 19 in the second half before wilting late and eventually falling by two.
Ed Cooley could be excused if he momentarily thought back on last season’s meltdown late on Sunday afternoon, as Providence seemed to be in control, leading by nine with just over two minutes to play, before falling apart in the face of Villanova’s pressure.
They turned the ball over four times in 80 seconds to allow the Wildcats to tie it with 43 seconds remaining.
For a team that had been struggling so badly, and had so often in recent seasons not been able to pick themselves up off the mat, a loss seemed inevitable.
If Villanova didn’t win it in regulation, they certainly would in overtime with both LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts having fouled out and a whole lot of momentum on their side.
A Wildcat win felt like a formality, until Cotton hit the the biggest shot Providence has seen in years – a contested, straight-away three with 2.2 seconds remaining to rescue the Friars.
It was fitting that Cotton, who has carried Providence throughout this season and saw a potential game-tying three pointer in the closing seconds against Connecticut narrowly rim out on Thursday, was the hero for a desperate Providence team.
Before he did so the Providence had to fight through a lot of adversity to get there.
Fortune turns February tide
Entering the game 2-7 in Big East play and having lost 10 of 12, it appeared as though Providence was on the verge of yet another February swoon. Villanova raced out to an early 10-2 lead, holding the scuffling Friars to just one field goal in the opening seven minutes, threatening to run away with this one early.
February has been particularly cruel to the Friars recently. How cruel? Providence has gone 4-18 in the month over the past three seasons.
With that in mind, the Friar faithful wouldn’t be blamed if they figured this one was on the verge of getting away in the opening stages.
Batts went to the bench early in the first half in foul trouble, Sidiki Johnson has left the team for personal reasons, and a thin frontcourt was left to deal with JayVaughn Pinkston who torched PC for 28 points and 14 rebounds in this building last season.
Providence stayed close following the poor start by holding Villanova to sub-30% shooting in the first half and benefitted from a breakout performance by Josh Fortune.
Before the season began, Cooley said Fortune would have a night in which he made eight or nine three pointers. He didn’t reach that number, but his impact was enormous.
Fortune may have hit a rookie wall prior to Sunday. With all of the roster reshuffling, one player that seemed to get lost a bit was the Hampton, VA freshman who’d scored a total of three points since Providence’s win at Seton Hall – a span of five games.
It may not even be fair to classify it was a rookie wall, considering he’d taken just eight shots total in those five games.
Having played just four minutes in Thursday’s overtime loss to Connecticut, few foresaw this. Fortune broke out on Sunday — making 4-4 from three point range in the first half to spark a rally that carried PC to a halftime lead.
Prior to his first three with 7:30 left, PC had made just three field goals in the entire first half. By the time he’d knocked down his fourth just four minutes later the tide had been turned and Providence headed to the locker room up 29-23.
Villanova has been hard to figure this year. After falling at Providence two weeks ago they came out and defeated a pair of top 10 teams in Syracuse and Louisville. Perhaps you could chalk up the loss in Providence to life being difficult on the road in the Big East, despite the opponent.
The second half started like the first for Providence. The Friars managed just two field goals over the first 9:30 of the second stanza, as Villanova ripped off a 16-6 run out of the break to take a 39-35 lead.
It seemed as though order had been restored in Pennsylvania.
That’s when Fortune struck again, making his fifth three pointer in five attempts to bring Providence to within a point with 10:30 to go.
His shot kicked off a 13-2 PC spurt consisting of three balls by Cotton and Vincent Council as well, and suddenly Villanova was in trouble at home, trailing 48-41 with 6:28 remaining.
Nova went over 10 minutes without a field goal before James Bell converted a three point play with just over two minutes left to cut PC’s lead to six. That’s when the flurry of Friar turnovers led to six straight points for Nova, setting up Cotton’s big moment.
Cotton taking game to next level
Bryce Cotton has been outstanding for Providence all season. In an article from last week I broke down how he could very well end up in the top 10 in scoring all time at Providence and could be the first junior at PC to average over 20 points per game in the Big East era.
His three pointer with over seven minutes left gave Providence breathing room at 46-41, but it also gave Cotton 1,000 points for his career. No one saw this coming two years ago, and for all he improved from his freshman to sophomore campaign, he’s taken his game to the next level as a junior.
Interestingly, the final play wasn’t run for Cotton. It was Council who had the ball in his hands late, yet he missed and PC came up with an unlikely offensive rebound, with their two leaders on the glass (Batts and Henton) having fouled out.
It was Kris Dunn (who struggled with his decision making at times on Sunday, but grabbed four offensive rebounds) who kept the play alive, tipping it out to Fortune who handed it to Cotton with 10 seconds remaining.
This is where the evolution in Cotton’s game was on full display. A season ago, Cotton was a terrific option from three point range, but relied on Council and screens to get him open on the perimeter. Not this year.
Cotton dribbled the clock down until there were four seconds remaining, pulled up off of the bounce from the top of the key and rattled home a contested three pointer to ice it for the Friars.
It’s a play he couldn’t have made last season, but the junior’s game continues to grow and this time his tremendous improvements didn’t go overshadowed by a Providence loss.
His final line: 18 points (on only 12 shots from the field) to go along with 4-5 from three point range, six rebounds, five assists, and the biggest shot Friartown has seen in a long time.
On a day in which Council, Batts and Henton combined for just 4-19 shooting, Providence still managed to win thanks to a poor shooting night from Villanova (27%, 2-15 from 3), a huge lift from Fortune and the continued greatness of Bryce Cotton.
Email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org