Providences marches on with last-second win over USC

March 18, 2016 - 3:02 am
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Providence coach Ed Cooley put it best. "That was March Madness at its best," Cooley said in his opening postgame comments, after his Friars came from behind to defeat Southern Cal, 70-69, late Thursday night at PNC Arena on a last-second layup by Rodney Bullock. With the win, PC advances to the NCAA Tournament's second round Saturday night against North Carolina, the top seed in the East Regional. First things first, however. Indeed, it was March Madness at its best. But the finish was only for the strong-hearted. Trailing by one at halftime after leading by seven points in the first half, the Friars suddenly turned a cold shoulder to the USC defense. A 15-7 run by the Trojans erased a one-point PC lead and had USC ahead by seven, 60-53, with 7:38 remaining, after a baseline drive for a dunk from All-Pac-12 guard Julian Jacobs. While the 3-point shot fell off and on for the Friars all night long, key 3's kept them close to USC for the final, frantic seconds. Kyron Cartwright popped one to pull his team within four. Following a Drew Edwards jumper, Bullock knocked home another for a 61-60 Providence lead with 5:59 remaining. USC's offense was tough to handle, however. Jordan McLaughlin responded with a jump shot of his own, followed by a steal, a missed layup and then an assist to freshman big man Bennie Boatwright for another, giving the Trojans a 64-61 lead with 4:09 to play. After two free throws from Nikola Jovanovic made it 66-61, Kris Dunn buried a jump shot to keep the Friars within three. Again, Southern Cal responded with relentless effort by going to the basket and getting to the line. Two Katin Reinhardt free throws put the Trojans back up by five, until Dunn found Ben Bentil (19 points, 9 rebounds) for a dunk, then wound up for a deep trey (his third of the half) to pull the Friars even at 68-68 with just 1:27 remaining. The final nerve-wracking 90 seconds was the stuff March Madness has produced seemingly every year. This year is no exception. Boatwright made one of two free throws with less than a minute to play, and after the teams exchanged possessions USC's Elijah Stewart had a chance to put PC away at the line. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Jacobs also missed the front end of a one-and-one with just 12 ticks left. Providence secured the rebound, Dunn missed a jumper and the Friars retained possession as the ball went out of bounds. With three seconds remaining, Edwards waited patiently to inbound the ball from the baseline, and found Bullock after a double screen under the basket for a game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds left. A halfcourt heave by USC fell short, and just like that the Friars had their first NCAA Tournament win in 19 years. "Kris and Ben took a lot of the attention away," Bullock said in describing the last play. "I guess Drew saw me and made a great play and I just finished it." Bullock finished the game with 16 points and 10 rebounds, his eighth double-double of the season. "I still can't believe we won that game," Cooley said. "I don't think we played well. We did get frustrated. We were in foul trouble [Dunn played with four fouls in the second half]. At the same time, I thought the guys were resilient. Tonight we grew up and had great team composure and executed down the stretch when we needed to." "It was a game of runs," USC coach Andy Enfield said. "We had the lead down the stretch, and I thought we played excellent defense. We did everything we needed to do to win the game, but we had a couple of crucial turnovers. We still had a chance to win, and missed two front ends of a one-and one. "Give Providence credit," Enfield added. "They competed just like our team and they made the last shot." Which left us with March Madness, at its best, one more time. NOTES Ninth-seeded Providence (24-10) advances to face North Carolina, an 83-67 winner over Florida Gulf Coast earlier Thursday night. Game time is scheduled for approximately 9:40 p.m. Saturday night from PNC Arena (broadcast time on 103.7 WEEI-FM will be approximately 9:15). The Friars lost to UNC in 2014's first round in San Antonio, 79-77, despite a career high 36 points from Bryce Cotton in his final game. Edwards, whose patience on the inbounds pass led to Bullock's winning shot, said this about the final seconds: "It's like we couldn't get over the hump, but then just that last play, that's what March Madness is all about. You play until the last second. It just opened up and we made a shot." The Providence win snaps a five-game NCAA losing streak for the program, spanning 19 years since a Sweet 16 win over Chattanooga in Birmingham, Alabama. The win also evens up PC's record as a lower-seeded team in NCAA play at 5-5, with another such game to come Saturday. The Friars improve to 9-1 on the season in games decided by four points or less, and 2-0 against teams from the Pac-12 (defeating Arizona in November, 69-65). Dunn scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half, and tied his career high with four 3-pointers. For Southern Cal, the loss was just the second time this year for the Trojans when leading a game with five minutes left, and when shooting 50 percent from the floor. While Providence missed four of its final five attempts from the floor, USC made 10 of its last 15 -- but none in the final 4:09.