Providence displayed some classic tournament magic on Friday as the team took down top-seeded Xavier 75-72 in overtime in the Big East Tournament semi-finals. They advance to the title game and will take on the winner of Villanova and Butler. Providence won the tournament back in 2014 behind the efforts of Kris Dunn.
“What a game, what an atmosphere, what a league,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said.
The Friars were led by Alpha Diallo and Rodney Bullock, who dropped 17 points apiece. Senior standout Kyron Cartwright was the player of the game, though. He scored 15 points and dished out six assists. Cartwright did most of his work in the second half and overtime to propel Providence to victory.
For Xavier, Kerem Kanter led the way with 18 points on 7-9 shooting. The big man showed the ability to score in the post, hit free throws, and step out to shoot the three. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura both struggled in this game. Bluiett scored 13 points but shot just 2-14 from the field, while Macura had nine on 4-10 shooting.
The Musketeers led by as many as 17 in the second half but saw that lead quickly evaporate.
“It’s disappointing because I feel like we had this game,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “You know, we’ve been so awfully good in close games, but tonight, we just left a few plays out there that had we made, we’d be sitting here getting ready for the winner of Butler-Villanova.”
With Bluiett and Macura held to seven points combined in the first half, you would think Xavier would be down. It was quite the opposite against the Friars, as Xavier led 43-29 at the half. This was mostly thanks to Kanter. The Musketeers’ big man was a force down low with 10 points and had it working in the post.
Paul Scruggs poured in 13 first-half points off the bench to lead Xavier. Sean O’Mara, a 6’10” senior, also logged productive minutes for the Musketeers. It is very encouraging for Xavier when their two best players are not playing well and they can carry a 14-point lead into halftime.
Kanter and O’Mara were physical against the Friars early on. Even facing the deficit, Providence didn’t panic.
“We went in and we talked about – in our business, you have to have real conversation with these young men,” Cooley said. “You can’t sugarcoat anything. We’re in the semifinals. Why are we so hesitant to play? Play.”
In the opening minutes of the second half, Xavier looked like it was ready to run away with this game. With 15:20 left, Macura nailed a three to give his team a 52-35 lead. That seemed to be the last thing that went right for the Musketeers for the remainder of the game.
In order for the Friars to make a run, Cartwright needed to get going, and that is exactly what happened. The senior was a main proponent of the run that got Providence back in the game. In overtime, he hit a fadeaway jumper to give the Friars a 73-70 lead with 57 seconds left.
“The jumper was just being aggressive, making a play,” Cartwright said. “I created a little bit of space and seniors have to step up to the moment, and I thought I did that tonight.”
Providence went on to outscore Xavier 39-25 in the second half and 7-4 in overtime. For the Musketeers, overtime was full of missed layups and opportunities. They missed three layups and Macura committed an offensive foul down by one with six seconds left. After a couple free throws, Providence was able to hang on in front of a wild crowd.
“The place is electric. I hope it’s electric tomorrow,” Cooley said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative of them to come out to support our young men.”
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