Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports

Providence falls to Villanova in Big East championship

WEEI
March 10, 2018 - 10:59 pm

By John Rooke

The finish line was right there.  But as it sometimes happens in the auto racing world, your car can run out of gas before you get there.

Providence played into a 3rd overtime for a 3rd straight night in the 2018 Big East Tournament – the first time in the 39-year history of the league for a team to be thrice-extended on consecutive nights into extra time.   But the Villanova Wildcats are ranked 2nd nationally for a reason – they have big-time players who hit big-time shots in the clutch – and the Cats take the title with a 76-66 overtime win over the Friars.

“l feel for our young men,” PC head coach Ed Cooley said, with the emotion of the finish still evident on his face, and in his wardrobe.  The coach ripped the seat of his pants earlier in the game and was sporting a towel around his waist.  “I thought we played great, I thought we played tough.  I thought we played together.”

Indeed, the Friars kept things together against a deep and talented Villanova team.  The Wildcats stormed out of the gate with an 11-2 run to start the game, almost a carbon copy of their 19-0 start in a semifinal win over Butler.  But Providence answered with nine unanswered points of their own to tie it up.

Each time the Wildcats threatened to widen the lead, the Friars found an answer.  Nova led by four at the half, 31-27, but PC figured they might have the Cats right where they wanted them.

For the second straight night, Cooley made a strategic lineup change in the second half.  Friday night, Makai Ashton-Langford gave the Friars big minutes in a win over Xavier.  Saturday night, it was Drew Edwards’ turn to shine, needing someone to slow down Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson.

“I coach on gut,” was Cooley’s response to a question on the lineup change.  “I trust Drew.  He’s been in some high-level games.  I thought his size was a little bit bigger than Makai, and his overall awareness of what we do as a basketball team, I thought it would work. 

“We just came up a little bit short,” he added.

After falling behind by 12 again (45-33) with 14:42 remaining in regulation, a similar scenario to Friday night played out again.  Edwards slowed Brunson’s charge.  Then, the Friars began a methodical move right back into the mix, with senior guard Kyron Cartwright turning his offensive game on full throttle. 

Three three-point baskets from Cartwright, along with one from Isaiah Jackson and an Edwards layup pulled PC into a 51-51 tie with 7:49 remaining, and an Edwards free throw brought Providence into the lead for the first time at 52-51.  Villanova managed to grab the lead away and take a 58-54 edge into the final five minutes, but the Friars outscored the Cats 6-2 in the last 4:27 of the period.

Defensively, it was their best stretch of the game.  But then the needle on gas gauge began to waver, and point toward “E.”

Tied at 60 headed into the OT, Nova used its size and athleticism to control the backboards, getting several 2nd (and 3rd) shots up at the basket.  Two three-pointers by tournament MVP Mikal Bridges as the shot clock wound down, coupled with another basket from Brunson as the possession clock hit zero, emptied the Friars’ gas tank right to the last drop.

16 offensive rebounds turned out to be a huge difference in the game and coupled with Providence’s 1-10 shooting in the extra period…well, it was hard to be too disappointed with the effort.

But the Friars were, naturally, sorry to see their chance at a 2nd title in five years slip away.  “If you had told me back in September that we’d be playing in this game with the ball to win a postseason championship, I would have signed up for it,” Cooley said.  “Little things got us.  And hopefully, we’ll learn from it for next week’s tournament.

“You can’t throw no-hitters in basketball,” he added.  “You’re not going to shut anybody out.  We played great defensively.  They just made some timely plays.”

While the Friars simply ran out of gas, before hitting the finish line themselves.

FRIAR NOTES

Brunson led the way with a game-high 31 points, the fourth time this season for him to reach 31, and Bridges added 25.  56 of the 76 points scored by the Wildcats came from the two all-tournament selections.  Cartwright (19 points, 6 assists) and Alpha Diallo (22 points, 10 rebounds) were also named all-Big East Tournament, along with Butler’s Kamar Baldwin…the game was just the fourth Big East title game to reach overtime, and for the fourth time in history there were three overtime games in the same year…the championship game was a sellout (19,812), and the Big East drew its highest attendance to Madison Square Garden in the five years since the reconfiguration of the league, with sellouts in the semifinals and finals…Providence falls to 2-1 in championship games, having won in 1994 and 2014.  Villanova wins its 4th title in nine trips to the final game, and its third in four years…the Friars drop to 1-9 all-time in Big East tourney play against the Wildcats, the lone win coming during PC’s run to the trophy in ’94…Providence is the first team in Big East Tournament history to play in overtime three straight games.  PC will be looking for a 5th straight NCAA Tournament bid on Selection Sunday.  All postseason play will be broadcast on 103.7 WEEI-FM, friars.com and the TuneIn app…