Providence coach Ed Cooley

Steven Branscombe/USA Today Sports

Providence advances at Big East Tournament, beats Butler

John Rooke
March 13, 2019 - 10:05 pm

The problem with the Providence Friars this season has been mostly on the offensive end.  Sometimes sluggish to start games, unable to finish plays, not really able to shoot the ball from the perimeter with any consistency.

Except that none of those issues made an appearance on the Madison Square Garden floor Wednesday night in New York.  Oh, there was a tough start to the game, as the Friars managed just seven points in the opening 10 minutes.

But the backcourt, led by a career scoring night from junior guard Maliek White, popped the cork on whatever was bottling them up and wound up blasting Butler 80-57.  With the win, the Friars move into the Big East quarterfinals Thursday afternoon against top-seeded Villanova.

Down 17-7 with half of the first half gone, 6th man Isaiah Jackson provided a spark that quickly caught several of his teammates on fire, too.  But it wasn’t so much his scoring as it was his presence on the defensive end – a strong suit most of the season – that helped the cause.

Junior forward Alpha Diallo, named to the 2nd team all-Big East squad, took advantage of matchup issues with the smaller Bulldogs in the paint at this point and with the Butler focus on slowing the Friars down inside, it was White’s turn to flip the switch.  After a David Duke trey gave PC a lead they wouldn’t give up at 23-21, White followed by scoring 13 of the team’s final 15 points of the half – including three big three’s.

“Maliek looked like Superman out there today,” head coach Ed Cooley said.  “I was really happy for Maliek – that was pretty fun to watch on this stage.  We’re going to need him to do that again in about 15 hours.”

“I think my teammates just gave me confidence,” was White’s explanation, as he finished the game with a career-best 19 points.  “They tell me to keep shooting the ball.  I know I started off and missed three open threes.  Coach told us we have to take those open shots, and I kept shooting it.”

He certainly did.  With a 38-27 lead at the break, Butler could pull within six on a couple of occasions in the first three minutes of the second half before a 15-0 run shut the door on the Bulldogs’ chances for good.  Strong defense on leading scorer Kamar Baldwin (eight points, averaging 17.5) and getting into foul trouble, plus the PC length defending against Butler shooters on the edge was simply too much to overcome.

White led Providence with 19 points and five assists, Diallo scored 18 with eight rebounds, Isaiah Jackson contributed 13 points and freshman David Duke chipped in his best game in a while with 16 points as the Friars shot 52% from the floor and connected on 11 made three’s for a second straight game.  They’ll need some of that to stick around Thursday afternoon against the Wildcats.

“We’ll be up all night with the staff,” Cooley said, “but we’ll shut the players down.  We’ve been inconsistent (this season), so I’m happy to see some consistency over the last five games.”

NOTES

Game time for Providence and Villanova is 12 Noon Thursday, in the first of four quarterfinal games at Madison Square Garden.

Wednesday afternoon, the Big East announced Villanova’s Jay Wright as the league Coach of the Year, and Marquette’s Markus Howard as the Player of the Year.  Georgetown’s James Akinjo was named as the league Freshman of the Year.

Wright led the regular season champion Wildcats to a 22-9 record, 13-5 in Big East play, after losing four players to last summer’s NBA Draft following their winning the national championship.  The regular season title is Nova’s fifth in the last six years, and the honor is Wright’s sixth of his career.  Villanova has also won three of the past four Big East Tournaments.

Howard averaged 25.0 points per game for all games, 24.9 in Big East play which gives him the scoring title.  He has been one of the nation’s top shooters and led the league with 112 made three-pointers while shooting 41.6 from outside the arc.  In an overtime win at Creighton in January, Howard broke his own Big East single-game scoring record by torching the Blue Jays for 53 points, topping the 52 he scored last season at Providence.  Howard is also a finalist for the Wooden Award and the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard.

Akinjo has been a large part of Georgetown’s rise this season, scoring 13.3 points per game and he led the entire league with 5.4 assists per game – an honor that had gone to a PC guard in six of the past seven seasons.  Akinjo was also second in the Big East in free throw shooting, hitting 90% in conference games.

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