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Providence Survives Butler, Advances to Semifinal Friday

The Closer, Al Durham, comes in clutch as the Friars outlast the Bulldogs, 65-61  

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Providence vs Butler Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Rejoice, Friar Fans, the BIG EAST Tournament is finally upon us, and boy, it does not disappoint. Quarterfinal Thursday started off with quite the game, which saw the 1-seeded Providence Friars top the 9-seeded Butler Bulldogs, 65-61. This one did not disappoint, and certainly kept fans on the edge of their seats for the full 40-minutes, so let’s get into it.

We’ll start with the Bulldogs. Man, what a fight. For a few moments late in the second half, I thought for sure, that LaVall Jordan’s edgy squad was going to pull off its second BIG EAST Tournament upset in less than 24-hours. The fight in his squad was undoubtable, but was unfortunately, not enough.

Similar to last night’s affair, Butler was led by sophomore guard, Chuck Harris, who logged 24-points on 4-for-12 shooting. Harris, who put up 29-points last night against Xavier, often struggled to find his rhythm offensively, as he found himself guarded by Providence’s Justin Minaya. Nonetheless, it is still clear to see that this Butler squad runs through Harris, and this afternoon’s game continued to prove that.

Harris was joined in double-figures by Bryce Golden (13-points) and Bo Hodges (10-points).

Now, for the Friars.

The #1 seed was led in scoring by none other than the fifth-year center, Nate Watson. Watson scored a season high 26-points on a healthy 9-for-14 shooting, while also pulling down 7-rebounds. As many fans surely remember from the first two outings against Butler, Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden are no match for Watson’s size and dominance around the rim. This afternoon, Watson’s size and seniority were on full display as he exploited Butler’s bigs throughout both halves of play.

Watson was joined in double-figures by BIG EAST Sixth Man of the Year, Jared Bynum, who logged 16-points.

There is a lot to be said about this game, especially in the second half, but if one thing holds true, it’s that this team knows how to close games. And who better to close them, than Mr. Sandman himself, Al Durham. Durham, who Cooley has often coined “The Closer” came up clutch in the final seconds of the game, knocking home a monstrous three-pointer to give the Friars a 61-59 lead, then by slamming home an exclamation point dunk as time expired. In the post-game press conference, Ed Cooley shared that Al hadn’t hit a three-pointer since January…

Man, was he due.

The final 3-minutes of this one saw a traditional back-and-forth rock fight between the Bulldogs and the Friars, and I would be remiss without mentioning the play of Justin Minaya. Perhaps the play that won the game for the Friars (aside from Durham’s clutch three), was Minaya’s block on Chuck Harris’ layup that resulted in a Butler turnover. Minaya, who has been the Friars’ best defensive player all season, finished the game with 3-blocks, with his final block turning out to be the most important.

While sitting in the press booth, former Providence Point Guard, Kyron Cartwright, shared with me that towards the ends of games, Cooley preaches to his guys “Don’t look at the ball – go get it!” When Minaya blocked Harris’ shot, the former Friar great’s face lit up with joy, knowing very well that the BIG EAST Coach of the Year had likely just shared with his team the same message that he had used to share with Kyron.

The Friars will advance to semifinal Friday and will play the winner of the #4 Creighton / #5 Marquette game (which is happening as I write this, actually), in front of an electric, sold out, Madison Square Garden crowd. That game will be tomorrow, March 11th, at 6:30PM. You can catch the game live on FOX Sports 1, or stream it live on FOX Sports Go.