Sophomore Josh Fortune fell one point shy of tying his career high but led the Providence Friars in scoring with 17 points on 7-12 shooting. Carson Desrosiers added a team-high 11 boards, but neither effort was enough to overtake the Xavier Musketeers in their Big East rematch Saturday afternoon, falling to Xavier 59-53.
Despite jumping out to an early start with a three-point field goal from Fortune, Xavier went on an 8-0 run to go up 10-5 on the Friars. During the six minute scoring drought, Providence went 0-8 from the field while Xavier spread their attack, getting offensive production from Matt Stainbrook, Dee Davis, Semaj Christon and two free throws from Isaiah Philmore.
Junior forward LaDontae Henton broke the cold spell by making a quick layup with 11:31 left in the first.
The Friars came out of the TV timeout looking a little more composed and began to let the offense flow with the exception of one critical player: Bryce Cotton.
Cotton, the do-it-all senior guard for Providence College, struggled early and did not hit his first field goal until 9:23 left in the first half to tie the game at 12. The game became a dog fight with the Musketeers picking up a quick basket, followed by Providence responding.
Finally, with 5:17 left in the first, Kadeem Batts put down a monster dunk off an offensive rebound from a Tyler Harris miss to put the Friars up for the first time since the opening of the game. The Musketeers would give Providence a few answers but after a Bryce Cotton layup with just under three minutes left the Friars were able to hold a lead, staying up by one going into halftime.
Out of halftime the Friars looked exhausted, even lackadaisical.
Batts kicked off the half with a quick two from 19 feet, and then Xavier surged back into the game with a 9-0 run to put the Musketeers ahead of the Friars by six.
During the 9-0 run Xavier forced four turnovers and grabbed four rebounds.
Fortune broke this scoring spell this time with a three pointe, to put the Friars within one possession.
Once again Providence would chip away only to have Xavier continue to fend them off.
As the clock dwindled down, the absence of Cotton's usual 20.8 PPG was starting to be sorely missed. Cotton looked completely out of his element against the Musketeers, who did a great job not only double-teaming the senior guard but also forcing him into stupid plays, not something many teams have been able to do.
Although Cotton only had three turnovers for the game all three came at critical moments - particularly towards the end of the game when, with chances to strike back, Cotton would throw the ball to a Xavier player or out of bounds.
Without Cotton allowing the offense to flow through him, he was unable to create any type of opening.
With 1:22 left in the game, Henton went 1-for-2 on free throw attempts to put the Friars within one of Xavier. After Christon responded with 1-for-2 of his own free throws and Batts grabbed the defensive rebound Cotton brought the ball up the floor with 32 seconds on the clock and went to pass the ball only to have it intercepted by Christon.
That was the closest the Friars had to winning the game.
Christon brought the ball up on a fast break and feed it to Isaiah Philmore, drilling it in for a dunk and putting the Musketeers out of reach, 57-53. Xavier would close out the game with another steal from Cotton and two free throws to win 59-53.
LaDontae Henton, the unsung hero of the Friars, contributed the second-most scoring for the Friars with 14 points while shooting a crisp 50.0 percent from the field. Justin Martin and Matt Stainbrook each had 13 points to lead the Musketeers in scoring.
The Friars finish up their two-game road trip on Monday night in Washington D.C., taking on the Georgetown Hoyas, who they defeated earlier on in the season. Xavier will take the road to former A-10-turned-Big East rival Butler on Tuesday night.