The Turning Point: Providence's Road to a Title

David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

A hard-fought double-overtime loss put the Friars on the ropes, but the lessons they learned from that game turned their season around.

Fighting back from a five-point deficit with one minute left in regulation, the Providence Friars were looking for a miracle. Hosting the ninth-ranked Villanova Wildcats, Providence was a bubble team desperately in need of another big win. They had picked one up in January, beating Creighton at home, but their 7-6 conference record wasn't quite enough to earn an NCAA Tournament at-large bid on its own. Knocking off the Wildcats could remove all doubt.

Down 63-58, team star Bryce Cotton drew a foul and knocked down two free throws to make it a one possession game. After a Wildcat miss, LaDontae Henton connected for the Friars. His first points off the game, Henton's three forced overtime and gave Providence a chance to win in the extra period.

The teams remained tied through one overtime period and Villanova stretched out a three-point lead in the second OT. The Friars fought back, with Cotton again making a clutch shot. His three brought the contest even at 79 with 24 seconds left. This time, Ryan Arcidiacono hit the game winning shot that he had missed on two prior occasions, driving left and drawing the foul as his layup went through the net. Henton's open three rimmed off for Providence and Villanova survived.

The Friars would bounce back and end the season on a 6-1 run, culminating in their Big East Tournament championship. The catalyst for this stretch was LaDontae Henton, rising to become the team's second-leading scorer and a double-double force in the final weeks of the year. After scoring just five points in the loss to Villanova, Henton averaged 17.1 per game the rest of the season. Most impressive were his 20 and 16 output in a double-overtime win against Marquette and 26 and 14 statline to beat Seton Hall in the BET semifinals. Henton and Cotton combined for 44 points against the Pirates. Despite being held to nine points in the final against Creighton, Henton pulled down 13 rebounds. No other player grabbed more than five.

Henton's resurgence and Providence's ability to bounce back from that loss on February 18th have taken the Friars to heights not previously imagined. As an 11 seed in the East Region, Henton, Cotton, and Co. will need to summon some more magic to keep their season going. This time, they won't be surprising anyone.

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