Stew Milne/USA Today Sports

Friars survive Creighton in OT, advance in Big East tournament

WEEI
March 08, 2018 - 10:06 pm

By John Rooke

Nothing like a close call to put a little madness right into March, is there?

Potentially fighting for their postseason lives against the Creighton Blue Jays at Madison Square Garden in New York Thursday, Providence managed to dig deep when it counted most – in overtime – to overcome a sketchy performance early from the foul line and win 72-68.

With the win, the Friars move to 20-12 overall on the season, the fifth straight year they’ve accomplished 20-plus wins under Ed Cooley.  They’ll also be looking for a fifth straight NCAA Tournament bid Sunday, provided they don’t win in the Big East finals Saturday night.

“Today, divine Providence was on our side,” Ed Cooley said to the media in the immediate aftermath.  “It really was.  And that word in engrained in my soul, divine Providence goes a long way.

“We missed some free throws,” the coach added.  “I think we made the ones we had to make.  As much as we want to make all of them, it’s part of the game.  You encourage them to make the next one, don’t beat them up for missing.”

There was a lot of missing going on early.  Providence found itself in a tight game throughout the first half, down by four (30-26) at halftime as Creighton closed on a 7-0 run over the final 2:31.

Following an opening trey by the Blue Jays’ 1st team all-Big East guard Marcus Foster in the second half, PC quickly found itself down seven.  But there was zero panic, even if there was some frustration.

“Coach emphasized earlier during the week in practice to tell us just to post these guys up,” explained senior forward Rodney Bullock.  “We had a lot of mismatches, and we ran a lot of plays for us to get the balls in the post and play off the post.”

Indeed, the Friars took the attack to Creighton on the inside and used an 11-5 run to turn a 44-40 deficit into a 51-49 lead after Isaiah Jackson found some range to hit a three with 7:20 remaining.

While the Jays did manage to re-take the lead after this point, something kicked in for the Friars.  Like free throws.  Providence couldn’t manage to make two in a row at the line until the OT, but they made enough to stay tight with Creighton into the stretch run.  Down by two with :37 seconds left in regulation, Alpha Diallo got low into the post and hit a layup following an offensive rebound to tie the score.

Creighton’s Marcus Foster missed an off-balance three at the end for a 59-59 game headed into an extra 5:00 minutes at the Garden.

In the extra time, the Friars hit 7-of-their-first-8 from the line to take control, and while they couldn’t quite close it out – they had enough at the end.  The Jays’ Mitch Ballock missed an open three from the wing with three seconds left that could have tied the score and sent the game into a second extra session.

But that didn’t happen, and the Friars advance to the Big East semifinals Friday night to face the top-seeded regular season champs from Xavier. 

It may have been an adventure, sure.  But when is anything in college basketball – in March especially – not an adventure? 

“Our goal at the beginning of the year, we say it every year, is just to get to the tournament and try to win every day,” senior guard Kyron Cartwright said.  “You gotta focus on the data that’s at hand.  You can’t look past anybody because everybody in this league is great.  We’re looking forward to getting back on that court tomorrow.”

FRIAR NOTES

Providence will face Xavier in the first Friday semifinal that tips off at 6:30 pm ET, with pregame beginning at 6:10 on 103.7 WEEI-FM, friars.com and the TuneIn app…the win was PC’s eighth this season trailing at the half (8-8 overall)…the semifinal appearance will be Providence’s 11th all time, and their 4th in the past five seasons since the Big East reconfigured…Diallo led PC with 19 points with nine rebounds, Rodney Bullock had 13 points with eight boards, and Jalen Lindsey added 11 points with 10 rebounds.  The Friars played only six minutes with either of their two centers on the floor, instead choosing to play smaller and quicker against Creighton’s shooters…defensively, the Friars held the Jays under 70 points for just the 3rd time this year (1-2 in those games), as Creighton came into the game 8th nationally in scoring at 85 points per game…Providence split with Xavier during the regular season, winning at home 81-72 on January 6th, losing in Cincinnati 84-74 on February 28th.  The Friars are the only team in the Big East with wins over both Xavier and Villanova this season…

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