Providence couldn’t muster one final run, and so their season ended Wednesday night in Waco, TX in a 77-68 loss to Baylor in the NIT quarterfinals.
After Bryce Cotton connected on a three pointer to give the Friars a 58-56 lead with 9:48 left (his 98th of the season, breaking Billy Donovan’s record from 1987) Baylor locked them down. Providence made just three field goals from that point, two of which were uncontested layups in the final minute with the game in hand.
The Friars were sound in their execution and resilient in coming back throughout the game’s first 30 minutes. They trailed 21-14 ten minutes into the game, but clawed their way back to a 38-38 tie at halftime after Cotton drilled a three pointer at the midway buzzer.
After Baylor ripped off a 7-0 run out of the locker room to take a 45-38 lead, PC scored 11 of the game’s next 15 points to once again tie things up at the 13:17 mark. Four Friars scored during that span, led by Vincent Council who hit a three and the game tying jumper in what might have been his best effort of the season – 21 points on 8-12 shooting, while grabbing seven rebounds in his last game as a Friar.
PC wasn’t deterred after Baylor scored the next four points, as Kadeem Batts (20 points, 9 rebounds) and Council made consecutive baskets to tie it up once again.
Still, Baylor continued to keep PC at bay, as point guard Pierre Jackson, who torched Providence throughout the night (20 points, 13 assists, 7 rebounds), made a three to push the lead back to three before Kris Dunn found Batts for a layup and Cotton hit his record-breaking three to give the Friars the aforementioned 58-56 lead.
Baylor had one more run left in them, and this time Providence couldn’t respond. Jackson scored nine points and dished out three assists over the final 9:45 – a period in which Baylor outscored PC 23-10 to close out the game.
Council, Cotton and Batts scored 64 of Providence’s 68 points on a night in which all three had it going offensively.
After a massive advantage at the free throw line against Robert Morris on Monday night, Providence shot just eight free throws on the night. Baylor took 26. With the level of talent the Bears feature it would have taken a near perfect offensive game to have defeated them on the road while taking 20 less free throws.
So, Providence’s season ends on a night in which they showed just how good they can be when Batts, Council and Cotton all had it going together, but also on a night which highlighted deficiencies that hampered this group all season.
The Friars had no answer for Baylor’s length at power forward, as Cory Jefferson scored at will in the first half and finished with 26 points on 10-14 attempts. Very often he simply rose up and got great looks from inside.
Baylor’s bench outscored PC’s 14-0, while the Friars shot just 4-18 from three point range, continuing their up and down performance from long range.
Over the next month Providence will face three questions that will greatly impact the 2013-14 season. Will Kadeem Batts return? Will Ricardo Ledo come back? Can they add depth for next season? The Friars will look to add a guard to their rotation for next season, and they may need help in the front court if Batts decides to turn pro next month.
Those are questions for another day, however. In a season that in many ways was seen as a transitional one, the 2012-13 Providence Friars battled their way through adversity and gave their fan base more excitement in February and March than most had expected as they struggled to find their form in January.
Cotton finished the season a 1st Team All Big East performer, the league’s leading scorer and now PC’s single season record holder for three pointers made.
Batts emerged from a much-maligned and inconsistent forward to the Big East’s most improved player.
Council finished his career the all-time leader in assists in the Big East.
Dunn found his footing while finding his niche as a defensive stopper and LaDontae Henton cleaned the glass, while Josh Fortune was largely responsible for a win at Villanova and Lee Goldbrough and Ted Brancroft carved out roles that few saw for them in October.
It won’t make the flight home any easier for a bunch that threw their best punch at Baylor, but this team, despite some glaring flaws, began a critical step in the rebuilding process: they started to turn the corner.
Expectations will be as high heading into next season as they’ve been in almost a decade.