The semifinal round of the 2018 BIG EAST Tournament got off to an electric start with the #5 Providence Friars winning in stunning fashion, upsetting the #1 Xavier Musketeers in overtime, 75-72, at Madison Square Garden.
Heading into today’s contest, Xavier had advanced to at least the BIG EAST Tournament semifinals in each of its five seasons.
Yesterday, the Musketeers manhandled the St. John’s Red Storm, 88-60, thanks to an explosive, game-high 27 points from senior guard Trevon Blueitt.
Today’s game was not as easy.
In their first-ever matchup in a Big East Tournament game, both teams got off to a fast start, trading baskets in the first two minutes of the game. Xavier, in particular, started the game scoring four of their first six attempts from the field, all coming from different scorers.
After starting the game two for three from the field, Providence would go on to miss seven of their next eight attempts. Despite the Friars’ offensive struggles, Xavier only held a 9-7 lead with 14:30 left to play in the first half.
Xavier reserve Paul Scruggs would add two fastbreak slam dunks to increase the Musketeers’ lead to eight points at 18-10, and Providence’s offensive woes continued.
Xavier held a commanding 28-12 lead with 7:43 left in the first half; and Providence, despite some strong efforts, were held without a field goal for the last 2:56.
After that miserable first half, Ed Cooley stated, “I didn’t think we had any rhythm in the first half. Offensively, defensively we had a lot of breakdowns, but the game is long.
“I kept telling the players a lot of game left, gonna try to get a couple of stops, get lucky with a couple of open shots.”
Xavier’s lead was 17 points at 52-35 in the second half, and everything turned.
Two-straight baskets from Providence reserve Makai Ashton-Langford and two additional makes from Alpha Diallo gave Providence a quick two-minute 8-0 run with 12:45 left to play in the second half.
The Friars cut Xavier’s lead to nine points.
A mid-range stepback jumper by Kyron Cartwright made it a seven-point game with 10:51 left to play in the second half.
Xavier had been held without a field goal for over four and a half minutes of play.
After a Kerem Kanter three-point play for Xavier, Providence would answer with a quick 6-0 run in just 75 seconds of play, converting on four of their last five attempts, cutting the deficit to just four points.
59-55 would be the score at the under-8 minute media timeout. The Providence faithful fed off the player’s comeback and Madison Square Garden felt like a home game at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
With 4:53 left to play, a Paul Scruggs foul would send Nate Watson to the line. Watson only got one of the two free throws to fall, making it a 64-60 game.
A Kerem Kanter miss in the paint allowed Providence’s Kryon Cartwright to slam in a fastbreak dunk to make it a two-point game at 64-62. The following possession, it would be Rodney Bullock with the floater to make it six straight field goals, tying the game up at 64 apiece.
In a matter of 25 minutes, what was once a 17 point Xavier lead with 15:20 left to play in the second half was evaporated in a 29-12 run to tie up the game in crunch time.
The Musketeers earned a two point advantage with under a minute left. Then, Xavier, electing to push the floor, missed a crucial layup, giving Providence another chance to tie the game.
A Kryon Cartwright drive to the basket drew a foul call with 12 seconds left to play. Cartwright confidently converted on both of his free throws to tie the game at 68.
J.P. Macura had a chance to win the game, but his floater was blocked by Rodney Bullock as time expired, warranting five extra minutes of play.
At 70-69 in favor of Xavier, both teams would miss from behind the arc. After a J.P. Macura miss from inside the paint, Alpha Diallo would give Providence a 71-70 lead, their first lead since 5-4 at the 17:14 mark in the first half.
Xavier would go on to miss four straight shots in the OT session and fell into another scoreless drought, this time for over three minutes.
Cartwright would extend the Friars’ lead to three points with a pull-up jumper with 49.4 seconds left to play in OT. He also drew a crucial charge in the paint on a charging J.P. Macura with 7.7 seconds left to play.
The score was 73-72 in favor of the Friars. J.P. Macura nearly stole the inbound pass underneath his own basket. The second inbound pass would successfully fall into the hands of Alpha Diallo, sending him to the free throw line.
Diallo would convert both free throws to give the Friars a three-point lead with six seconds left to play.
Xavier quickly rushed down the court for one last chance to tie the game and force the second overtime, but a three-point attempt by Kerem Kanter came after the buzzer sounded, giving Providence a stunning, 75-72 semifinal win.
After the game Ed Cooley was exhilarated by his team’s result. “We didn’t come out playing the way we wanted to play,” he said, “but I was really proud of our young kids in the second half. We made a really bold move we haven’t done before because we had to change the rhythm of the game.”
After the game, Chris Mack, had the following to say about his team’s performance down the stretch, “certainly a tough game. It feels like it’s a game that shoulda, coulda, woulda.”
Mack continued, “give Providence credit. They hung in there and we didn’t deliver the knockout punch that was needed, but also recognize that we’re playing a very senior-laden team in Providence.”
The Friars overcame a 14-point halftime deficit in order to win, which is tied for the third-largest in Big East Tournament history.
Making this win even more dramatic is the fact that Providence only held a lead for 2:41 of this game.
Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo both finished with a team-high 17 points in their semifinal win in 40-plus minutes of action. After only shooting 1-7 from the field in the first-half, Kyron Cartwright finished with 15 points, finishing the game shooting 6-17 from the field.
In regard to the atmosphere at the Garden, and thinking about tomorrow’s final, Coach Cooley commented, “The place was electric. I hope it’s electric tomorrow. As far as the Providence College fans, I couldn’t be more appreciative of them to come out to support our young men. Hopefully, they do again tomorrow.”
The Friars are headed to their third ever Big East Championship appearance. They are 2-0 in both of their title game appearances, most recently defeating Creighton in 2014.