by Jeff Williams ’17
After closing out the regular season with an 86-75 win over St. John’s, the Friar Men’s Basketball Team looked ahead to the post season. For the 35th straight year, the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament was held at the world’s most famous arena—Madison Square Garden in New York City. From March 8-11, while PC students enjoyed spring break, thousands of fans descended upon Manhattan to see their favorite teams play for a Big East title on the biggest stage.
The Tournament tipped off with a bang on Wednesday night. The matchup between the eighth seed St. John’s Red Storm and the No. 9 seed Georgetown Hoyas became reminiscent of a classic Big East battle. Amidst the chippiness, St. John’s pulled out their first tournament win in six years, 74-73. Next, the seventh placed Xavier Musketeers faced a bottom-of-the-barrel DePaul Blue Demons in a must-win game. After facing a one-point halftime deficit, Xavier pulled away in the second half to advance, 75-64.
At 12 p.m. the next day, the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats opened the quarters by smashing the exhausted Red Storm to the tune of 108-67. The four and five matchup pitted the Seton Hall Pirates and the Marquette Golden Eagles. Tied at halftime, the Pirates burst out of the gates with a 17-2 run and held on, 82-76. Fresh off their victory the previous night, the Musketeers took on the second ranked Butler Bulldogs and rode their momentum to a 62-57 victory. After a 4-8 start to conference play, the Friars raced home with a six game winning streak and were rewarded with the third seed. However, they would meet their match against the sixth-seeded Creighton Blue Jays. After taking a 30-27 lead into half time, the Blue Jays dominated the second half, pulling away for a 70-58 win.
Seton Hall gave Villanova a huge scare in the semifinals. The Pirates jumped out to a 27-20 lead at the half—the worst start by the Wildcats this season. Villanova scratched back into the contest, and conference player of the year Josh Hart converted the game winner to prevail, 55-53. Xavier had a great run, and ran up a 37-31 lead, but Creighton proved to be too good. Marcus Foster knocked down the game winning three-pointer as his Blue Jays prevailed, 75-72. In the final on Saturday, the Villanova Wildcats captured the Big East title in emphatic fashion. They raced out to an early double-digit lead and never looked back. Hart netted 29 points as his team cruised (74-60) to a third Big East championship.
The Friars made their 19th appearance in the NCAA tournament, making it four consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Ed Cooley’s team kicked off its tourney bid on March 15 in Dayton, Ohio, against the Southern California Trojans, a rematch of PC’s first round victory last year. As fans will recall, that matchup occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, when Rodney Bullock ’18 won the game with a buzzer-beating lay-up off of an inbounds from Drew Edwards ’19. When asked, Coach Cooley aptly pointed out that these were two very different teams. “Well, the biggest experience you can take is we won the game. But I think both teams are totally different, totally different…I think their style of play is still the same. Ours is very similar. But totally, totally different personnel.”
To make a run in the tournament, Providence needed Bullock, Kyron Cartwright ’18, and their teammates to bring their “A” game. In the first half, the team certainly did. After an early 7-0 deficit, the Friars exploded with a 15-0 run, bolstered by 15 points and four three pointers from Jalen Lindsey ’18. PC dominated the game’s opening, going into halftime with a 44-29 lead. Unfortunately, the Friars could not keep flying high, and it would be a very bad fall. Providence still had a 12-point lead with 12:53 remaining, but the Trojans came roaring back, narrowing it to four in three minutes. The game remained tight for several minutes before USC used a late 11-1 run to put the game away and end the Friars’ season, 75-71.
After the game, Coach Cooley was disappointed but hopeful.“Really, really frustrated with how this game ended. I thought we controlled it for most of it. But in tournament play you’ve got to play a complete game, and we didn’t. So we’re going to take ourselves home and brush ourselves off and look forward to next season…Those kids are in there hurting. I’m proud of our group this season. I think we had a year no one expected. I thought we did some great things in this game. But in tournament play you canít have the mistakes weíve shown and advance and expect to win.”