Friar Basketball

Big East Title Run Falls Just Short

Bullock Nova BET

What a game and what a difference three days can make.

Providence entered the Big East Tournament fighting for its NCAA Tournament dream, but left having come out on top in two of three straight overtime games, including two against potential number one seeds come Selection Sunday.

Kyron Cartwright went all Kemba Walker, Alpha Diallo emerged into a force, and Ed Cooley pushed every right button all week. After Providence came back from 17 points down to take out #3 Xavier in the Big East Tournament Semifinals, the Friars held a lead against #2 Villanova with 40 seconds left in regulation of the title game.

Ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be, as Villanova tied it on a pair of free throws with 30 seconds to play, PC couldn’t convert a last second shot, and the Wildcats closed out the Big East Championship in the final minute of overtime.

What it means: Providence was squarely on the bubble heading into the Big East Tournament and left having not only locked down an NCAA Tournament bid, but making a statement to both the rest of the country and its own fan base.

Those who live and die with the program found the inconsistency of this group maddening at times, but they pulled it all together in New York and went on a run that was every bit as thrilling as the 2014 Big East title year.

Closing out yet another comeback (they trailed by 12 in the second half) and taking home the Big East title would have been an incredible feat, but if anything, Providence enters the 2018 Tournament with a renewed sense that they can play with anyone in the country.

Cartwright Shines: Another day, another MSG takeover for Kyron Cartwright. Providence’s senior point guard had three critical moments against Villanova.

As he’d done against Xavier on Friday night, he kept the Friars within 10 by hitting a pair of jump shots to slow Villanova’s growing momentum early in the second half.

Then he blew the roof off of the place. With PC trailing 51-41 with under 11 minutes to play, Cartwright went on a personal 8-0 run in a minute and a half. He knocked down a floater over Omari Spellman (51-43), then drilled a top-of-the-key 3 in Spellman’s face on the following possession (51-46). The next time down the court Cartwright hit a transition 3-pointer, and in a mere 90 seconds it was a two point game (51-49) and momentum had swung hard in PC’s favor.

Prior to the final 3-pointer of that run he defended the massive Spellman in the paint and boxed him out on the rebound.

Then with 1:36 left in the game and PC trailing by two, Cartwright tossed in an impossible fadeaway over the long-armed Mikal Bridges as the shot clock expired to tie the game.

Cartwright embraced the stage like few Friars have in recent memory.

Cooley’s instincts prove right again: Cooley pressed all the right buttons over the past three days. His decision to go small against Creighton by starting Maliek White over Kalif Young was his first surprising call, then he went with freshman Makai Ashton-Langford out of halftime against Xavier. He turned to redshirt sophomore Drew Edwards with just under 14 minutes to play in the second half tonight because no one could contain Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson.

Brunson torched PC coming out of halftime. Villanova was looking for the knockout punch early, and Brunson took the swing. He knocked down a corner 3, converted a traditional three point play, and finished on a difficult layup in the first two and a half minutes of the second half. He scored his 25th point on a circus layup shortly after Edwards entered the game. He had made 11 field goals with 13 minutes left in the game, but finished with 12 in total, thanks in large part to the effort of Edwards.

After Edwards forced Brunson into a miss with eight minutes to play and PC trailing by two, Edwards grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and was fouled. His free throw gave Providence its first lead of the game.

Momentum had dramatically swung back to Villanova during a 5-0 spurt with under five minutes remaining. PC fumbled away a defensive rebound leading to a Bridges layup, and Bridges canned a 3 to push Nova ahead 58-54.

Following Bridges’ 3, Villanova’s Eric Paschall blocked a Rodney Bullock dunk attempt, sending the Garden into hysterics. Brunson went the length of the floor, but Edwards awaited him, drawing a charge and keeping PC alive at the 3:30 mark.

Edwards’ ability to slow Brunson’s dribble penetration was a big reason why Providence held Villanova to 60 points in regulation.

Offensive Rebounds Killed the Friars: It’s ironic that Cartwright drew comparisons to Bryce Cotton after the Xavier win. Cotton was never more heroic than in the 2014 NCAA Tournament against North Carolina when he scored 36 points. The Friars led that game by three with just over a minute left before ultimately falling in the closing seconds.

It wouldn’t have been a game had Carolina not pummeled PC on the glass all night.

Villanova played volleyball over and around the Friars at the most critical times on Saturday night.

For example:

18:05 of the second half: This was a four point game at halftime, but the lead quickly swelled after Villanova grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive. It was a possession that ended with a Brunson 3 and a 37-27 Nova advantage.

7:02 of the second half: Following Edwards’ three point play, PC was up a point. Bridges missed a 3, but Nova grabbed the rebound. Donte DiVincenzo then missed a short jumper and Providence was in position for the board, but Cartwright and Isaiah Jackson miscommunicated and neither grabbed the ball. Bridges snuck in and laid the ball home to give Villanova a one point advantage.

5:40 of the second half: Once again, Nova missed on its initial shot. The ball touched the hands of two Friars and three Wildcats before Eric Paschall grabbed it. Bridges then knocked down a 3-pointer at the top of the key to push Nova ahead 56-52.

2:25 of overtime: Providence trailed by a point after a pair of Cartwright free throws. Brunson missed badly on a short jumper, but Spellman batted it out to a teammate to keep another possession alive.

Then came the back breaker.

Brunson lost control of his dribble, but Bridges scooped it up at the top of the key and hit a difficult 3 as the shot clock expired. Nova went up four and never trailed again.

Paschall a Difference Maker: While Bridges and Brunson justifiably get most of the acclaim, Paschall may have been the difference maker.

His 13 rebounds, and six on the offensive glass were devastating for the Friars. The 6’6 junior seemed too bouncy for PC at times.

Paschall is a Fordham transfer and former Atlantic-10 Freshman of the Year who has a long history with Providence.

The Friars recruited Paschall prior to his commitment to Fordham in April 2013. How heavily Providence was involved at the time is unclear — the Friars were in the midst of pulling together a great recruiting class that included Cartwright, Ben Bentil, Paschal Chukwu, and Jalen Lindsey.

When Paschall transferred from Fordham the Friars were once again involved, but he ultimately choose Villanova over a finalist list that also included Florida and Kansas.

 

4 Comments

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