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2018 Big East Tournament: Villanova outlasts Providence to win third title in four years

Villanova and Providence were locked in a battle all night, but the Wildcats pulled away at the very end to win their second straight conference crown.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Championship-Villanova vs Providence Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

It really was one of the best title games the Big East Tournament has seen, but Villanova defended it’s title and won its third Big East title in the last four years by the final of 76-66 over Providence.

Don’t let the score fool you, this was an epic finale to another great Big East Tournament.

The Villanova side:

Jalen Brunson stepped up to the free throw line for two crucial free throws. He had missed the front end of a one-and-one about a minute-and-a-half earlier in the game, but with the clock winding down there was very little room for error.

”I approach every free throw the same--make or miss,” he said. “Just concentrate and focus on the basket and myself. My teammates always have confidence in me. That’s pretty much it. Approach it the same way.”

He made the first, and then the second to tie things up at 60. Providence went to the player that had taken the Friars there, senior point guard Kyron Cartwright who made big shot after big shot in the closing minutes of the game. The delivered the stunning blow in each of the last two games, and both times were a similar drive to the left in isolation. This time around, his shot caromed off the rim and out, and the game was bound for overtime.

Whenever the Wildcats were pulling away, the Friars would go on a run to pull right back into the heat of the action. However, Villanova would finally fend Providence off in the extra five minutes of the game.

“What an incredible college basketball game—atmosphere at the Garden, we just feel so lucky to be a part of it,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “Congratulations to Providence on an incredible season. And just what a tough team, man. Either team could have won that obviously overtime game.”

The Wildcats and Friars traded haymakers all-game long. Even though Villanova would have its series of baskets of put it comfortably ahead in double figures, Providence would rumble right back into the game--just as it did in the two games prior.

Fortunately for Villanova, the Friars didn’t have answers at the end of the game. The Wildcats got the opening basket of overtime with a three-pointer by Bridges, but the Friars were right there.

Eventually, Alpha Diallo would get a basket to make it 68-66 in Villanova’s favor, with less than two minutes remaining.

Brunson, who had lifted Villanova into overtime with a pair of free throws, managed to shake off Kyron Cartwright and nail a jumper to make it a two-basket game.

That’s when the tension within the Garden quickly released into euphoria for the Wildcats, as they were able to pull away in the final minute of the game. Jalen Lindsey missed a three-pointer and ‘Nova gained possession. Donte DiVincenzo was fouled and set to the line for a one-and-one. He sank both, making it 72-66 with 33 seconds remaining.

The Wildcats unofficially sealed the deal with Mikal Bridges had an electrifying block that became a fast break Brunson dunk in transition--sending ‘Nova fans into a fury. A desperate three by Providence was off once again, and DiVincenzo added another fast break layup to make it a 10-point game.

While the last minute was a large breath of relief for ‘Nova, the 44 minutes before it were anything but that.

”The tough physical play, you don’t see that as much in college basketball,” Wright said. “Just the crazy plays, just guys battling--great athletes. Coaches that know each other really well. It was old school Big East and old school Big East in 2018.”

Bridges was named the tournament’s MVP. He had 25 points off of 9-of-14 shooting in the championship game. Brunson added 31 points, six rebounds, and four assists.

”I feel more excited that we won,” he said. “I couldn’t really care less about player of the tournament, but my teammates had my back and they found me throughout the tournament.”

The Providence side:

Divine Providence. It looked to be on the side of the Friars for a third night in a row.

In what turned out to be a classic Big East title game, the Friars more than did their part led by Bryce Cotton incarnate Kyron Cartwright who had a Big East Tournament personal high of 19 points in the championship game.

The ‘almost’ play that Friars fans will look back on came with 30 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 60. Cartwright dribbled the clock down and sized up his pray. He got inside and took the jumper to try and win the Big East Tournament crown, but it was just off target.

“I wanted the ball in Kyron’s hands,” Ed Cooley said. “Wanted to try to bring two to the ball. It worked for us all game. We just weren’t fortunate to get the last shot. But I’m proud of our players.”

All of the momentum that the Friars had in coming back from 12 down with 17:27 to go in the second half built up to that moment and Cartwright was inches from becoming a Big East legend.

“If you would have 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. “We got the shot we wanted in regulation.”

For Providence, it will be looked back at as their chance passed by but it’s those moments that make the Big East and college basketball great. The momentum almost climaxing at the end, but leading to five more minutes to decide it.

The Friars also received a great performance from Alpha Diallo who had a team-high 22 points and was fantastic all tournament long. It was fitting that both Diallo and Cartwright landed on the Big East All-Tournament team.

Another wrinkle in Providence’s amazing run is they had to play in three straight overtime games. Something that no Big East team has ever had to do in the conference tournament and came back from big deficits in each game to force overtime.

It really is a stat that will knock your pants off.

Speaking of that, we do have to get to Ed Cooley ripping his pants and wearing a towel wrapped around waist for most of the game.

Much like the run from Providence in the tournament, it really came out of nowhere and gained momentum and attention as the title game went on.

Was it Big John Thompson wearing the sweater? Maybe. If the Friars had won the game. Regardless, it will certainly go down in Big East lore.

“When I sat down I felt the great breeze in the crack,” Cooley laughed. “My pants ripped.”

The most important thing now for the Friars is moving forward after playing tough against some of the top teams in college basketball and taking that along with what’s left of Cooley’s trousers to the NCAA Tournament next week.

“We just played two No. 1 seeds back to back in overtime,” Cooley said. “That told me my team matured at the right time. It told me my team is gritty. It told me our team is tough, resilient, passionate, really good leadership.”

Any team that faces the Friars in the dance should be worried about what this team is capable of at the national level.

That might be what Friars fans will be most proud of from this run. Providence came into the Big East Tournament losers of three of their last five games including a less than inspiring senior day performance against St. John’s at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

Others were looking at teams like Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton and Butler to challenge Villanova for the title but Cooley, Cartwright and Providence made the unexpected run to capture the attention of college basketball in the midst of March Madness.

Villanova and Providence played in yet another Big East Tournament classic and will be tough outs in the NCAA Tournament. No question both of these teams could make a run.

We will see on Sunday where these teams are slated in the bracket and who they will challenge next.

What a week it has been at MSG! We sure enjoyed covering it and look forward to more madness as this beautiful month continues.

So long from MSG!