“Excuse me for a sec, just trying to get my emotions in check,” Providence Coach Ed Cooley said. “What a game, what an atmosphere, what a league.”
Those were the first words from Cooley after Providence’s epic 75-72 overtime win over Xavier to advance to the Big East title game on Saturday night.
This all after at one point it looked like the Musketeers would run away with it.
Providence looked dead in the water and the script was set. Top-seeded Xavier was going to the Big East title game to try and back up their regular season title.
Xavier was in complete command up 17 points with 15:20 remaining in the second half, but then something changed. Everything changed.
It was Divine Providence yet again at The Garden.
“I’m really proud of the players that stepped up to the challenge, especially in the second half,” Cooley said. “What a win for Providence College. What an electric atmosphere, I’ve got the goosebumps still.”
The Friars began to cut away at the deficit behind a crazed crowd at Madison Square Garden.
“I felt like we were at the Dunkin Donuts Center,” Cooley said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative of them coming and supporting our young men.”
It started on the defensive end and rebounding the basketball, which led to shots going in for the Friars on the other end. Providence went from shooting 33 percent in the first to finishing with a 44 percent mark from the field at the end.
“We went in (to the locker room at halftime) and we talked about—in our business you have to have a real conversation with these young men,” Cooley said. “You can’t sugarcoat anything. We’re at Madison Square Garden. 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.”
Cooley seemed to will his team back in the game by coming out literally on to the floor to smile, clap and encourage his players that they were still in it throughout the second half. They still had a chance to win despite the deficit.
Before anyone knew it, the game was tied with 3:45 left after a basket from Rodney Bullock who knotted up the game at 64 with two of his team-high 17 points.
Kyron Cartwright discussed how holding each other accountable and talking in a huddle without coach at times helped in the comeback effort.
“We're out there on the court and it’s just how close we are as a unit,” Cartwright said. “We had a lot of times out there, Coach is not out there with us the whole time, but we had a moment where we had to hold each other accountable. It’s something that we didn’t do early on in the year, but when we needed it most, we did.”
Cartwright shined again when it mattered most for the Friars and on his way to 15 points and six assists made some huge plays.
His two free throws with 12.3 seconds left in regulation tied the game after it looked like he may have been fouled going up and making the bucket. The foul was called on the floor and Cartwright answered the call at the line.
The biggest play of regulation came after, however, as Xavier’s JP Macura drove down the lane looking to win the game at the buzzer, but Bullock was there to block the shot and send the game to overtime.
Providence would take their first lead since it was 5-4 with 17:13 to go in the first half on two free throws from Alpha Diallo with 2:22 left in overtime to give the Friars a 71-70 lead.
After the Musketeers missed some chances to take the lead, Cartwright delivered again with a coldblooded jumper with 54.7 seconds left to give the Friars a 73-70 lead.
If that wasn’t big enough, there would be one more big play for Cartwright to make. Once again, it was Macura driving down the lane with a chance to give Xavier the lead. It was a two on one, Macura took it to the bucket but Cartwright took the charge with 7.7 seconds left.
Coach Mack couldn’t believe the call as it happened.
“I mean, I’m really biased,” Mack said. “But probably the right call. But frustration just being in the moment. So I don’t have any angst against those guys. Tough call for them to make but probably the right call.”
Diallo would make two free throws and when given once last chance, Quentin Goodin found Kerem Kanter who couldn’t get the shot away in time.
The Friars have now won back-to-back overtime conference games after defeating Creighton in overtime in the quarterfinal on Thursday afternoon. Providence is the first team to win two consecutive overtime Big East Tournament games since Syracuse in 2009 when they beat Connecticut in six overtimes and then West Virginia in overtime the next day.
Providence will play in their third final on Saturday night and in their history they are 2-0 in Big East Tournament finals. Their last title came in 2014 when they defeated Creighton in the new Big East’s first conference championship game.
Bryce Cotton led them to that title and now Cartwright is getting some of those same comparisons with this year’s team.
“Both Kyron and Bryce are different,” Cooley said. “(Kyron) is stepping up to the moment. He is stepping up to the moment, but (Bryce Cotton) won a championship.”
Providence will look to win it again on Saturday and will do whatever it takes to get it done even if they have to call to ones above for help one more time.
“Again, Divine Providence brother. Believe,” Cooley said.