Forget the bubble talk. The Providence College Friars will dance into their first NCAA Tournament in a decade this week as the newly crowned Big East champions. The Friars (23-11) won their second title, and first since 1994, Saturday under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, outlasting Doug McDermott and Creighton, 65-58. Bryce Cotton led the Friars with 23 points and won the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. In just his third season at PC, coach Ed Cooley found himself standing in the middle of the Garden floor and wearing a smile that stretched all the way back to Rhode Island as his players celebrated their victory. Cooley and his staff rolled the dice and opted to play zone defense against the nation’s best 3-point shooting team but the move paid off handsomely. “I feel blessed to represent Providence College,” said Cooley. “It took a brave effort for us to get over the hump.” As the Friars began snipping the Garden nets down, Cooley resisted the chance to make the final cut and instead urged Cotton to do the honors. “It’s a vindicating feeling to have the Providence College Friars as the Big East champs,” said Cotton as he wore the net around his shoulders. “For us to bring it home is top of the list.” After getting torched out of the gate in a loss to the Jays last Saturday night in Omaha, Neb., the Friars opted to go zone. The move paid instant dividends and frustrated the Jays all night. Creighton managed a season-low 17 points in the first half and shot just 26 percent (8-of-30) from the 3-point line. McDermott heated up in the second half and scored 18 of his 27 points after the half. But Avery Dingman (10 points) was the only other Bluejay to reach double figures. “That zone is tough,” said McDermott. “I don’t think we really expected zone. I thought we were panicking (early on) and forcing shots. That zone threw us way off at the start of the game.” The Bluejays made just three of their first eight shots and trailed at the 12-minute mark, 8-7. McDermott moved all over the floor looking for room to get going and while he made a pop in the lane and a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key early on, he didn’t look nearly as comfortable as he has in the first two games of the tournament. The Bluejays finished the first half shooting 34 percent, including just 1-of-12 from the 3-point line. Those woes helped the Friars score nine unanswered points for a 17-9 lead. At that point McDermott had hit 3-of-6 shots while the rest of Creighton was 1-of-8. PC wasn’t all that sharp (8-of-22 for the half) either but the Friars played aggressive, rough-and-tumble Big East ball that Creighton didn’t seem excited about. That style helped PC outscore the Jays from the foul stripe in the half, 9-0, and ultimately lead at the half, 26-17. Creighton (8-for-23) made just one of its 12 threes and the 17 points were by far the lowest first-half output for the Jays this season. “I thought the guys were just trying to do too much. It’s a big stage,” said coach Greg McDermott. “The credit goes to Providence. Their plan worked really well.” The Jays were much smoother on offense in the second half and while they closed to within two points in the final 80 seconds, they never caught the Friars.
BIG EAST CHAMPIONS! Providence wins title over Creighton, 65-58
Providence Journal | Mar 16