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Providence full of surprises in win over Xavier

How did the Friars pull off their semifinal comeback?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-Providence vs Southern California Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Facing a 14 point deficit at halftime, Ed Cooley concocted one of those make-or-break decisions he’d either get lauded or ridiculed for. When he came in the locker room for halftime and announced he’d be starting Makai Ashton-Langford, a freshman guard who didn’t play in the first half, there was no in between.

Either Langford’s defense and ball handling would spark a seismic comeback in the second half or Cooley would be second-guessed for overreacting to a poor start.

The Friars won the second half by 14 and after twenty-five more minutes of play are advancing to the Big East Finals with their 75-71 win against Xavier.

“We made a really bold move,” Cooley said.” We had to change the rhythm of the game. We’re in the semifinals. There’s so many people that would love to be in this building at this time. Why are we so hesitant to play? Play.”

His to-the-point halftime message was simple- he wanted Providence to take bigger swings against the outright conference champs. So senior Kyron Cartwright started an impression of Bryce Cotton, who led the Friars to a Big East championship in 2014.

After having a slow start to the game, Cartwright hit two free throws at the end of regulation to send it to overtime. Once he got there, he hit an off-balanced pull-up jumper to give them a three-point lead. Then, he erased Xavier’s last chance to take the lead by drawing a charge on J.P. Macura with 7 seconds left in overtime.

“Seniors have to step up to the moment and help the team,” Cartwright said. “And I thought I did that tonight. And I’m going to try to do that tomorrow night and hopefully try to will my team to a championship.”

As one of the teams with the most to play for entering the conference tournament, Providence seemingly locked its place in the NCAA Tournament with this signature win. Not that Xavier came to New York for the sightseeing.

“It sucks we’re not playing tomorrow,” said Kerem Kanter, who now won’t get to play in the championship game in front of his brother .

The senior forward, who led Xavier with 18 points, said winning the postseason championship was a goal the Musketeers set in the preseason, but they fumbled this one away. After Macura’s drawn charge on a three-on-one fast break and Quentin Goodin driving to the basket down three in the final seconds, the favorites left Madison Square Garden emptyhanded.

As Providence double-teamed Bluiett, Goodin drove past the Friars’ line of defense and inside the arc. Realizing he needed a three, he scrambled to get rid of the ball but couldn’t find Kanter before the clock expired.

Mack called the unfortunate sequence of events that led to the Musketeers’ loss an example of “shoulda, coulda woulda.”

“My biggest thing is making sure that the guys in the locker room have won 28 games this year, have won a regular season Big East championship,” he said. “Fought tooth and nail and could have been in the finals on any number of plays.”