Rushed Reactions: Providence 75, Xavier 72 [OT]

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Ed Cooley Is Hard to Not Root For (USA Today Images)

  1. Ed Cooley is a tremendously underrated coach. It’s not that anybody is calling for his job in Providence after yet another 20-win season, but few seem to have appreciate what Cooley extracts from his team seemingly every March. The first half of tonight’s game featured a dominant first half performance from Xavier, one in which the Musketeers exploited slow switching and poor closeouts to the tune of 1.23 points per possession. And with a 14-point halftime lead, an otherwise unremarkable Friars’ loss seemed inevitable. But Cooley made some critical adjustments down the stretch, the first and most impactful of which was awarding 28 minutes to freshman center Nate Watson, who routinely took advantage of Xavier’s poor post defense for nine second half points. The second was inserting freshman Makai Ashton-Langford into the lineup, which immediately provided star point guard Kyron Cartwright with more room to operate. Lastly, the Friars eventually clamped down on the defensive end, clogging the paint and contesting every cut the Musketeers made to the basket. Xavier followed up a 43-point first half performance with just 25 second-half points and four in overtime.
  2. Tonight was an anomaly: Xavier is one of the few teams in the country that can match Villanova’s offensive firepower. The entire college basketball world knows what Trevon Bluiett (19.7 PPG) and JP Macura (12.3 PPG) are capable of, but virtually every other player Xavier puts on the floor can also notch double figures on any given night. Against Providence, freshman guard Paul Scruggs totaled 13 first-half points despite averaging just 4.5 PPG on the season. Not only do the Musketeers have a plethora of outside shooters and slashers akin to Villanova, but they also boast true low post scoring threats that can exploit mismatches, an area that they utilized against Providence. Slowing down this offense requires a lineup of players of all positions and sizes.
  3. Providence may have improved their NCAA Tournament outlook more than any team in the country this week. The Friars were a bubble team heading into Thursday’s games, probably secured an NCAA Tournament bid with an overtime win over Creighton last night, and now is playing its way towards a #9 or #10 seed by with an upset win over Xavier. Playing with this level of confidence will make for a scary First/Second round opponent next weekend.

Star of the GameKyron Cartwright logged 15 points and six assists in the semifinal victory, including numerous isolation baskets when Providence needed it most. The defining play of the game was a pull-up jumper to put his team ahead by three points with 50 seconds remaining.

Quotable.

  • Kyron Cartwright, on the key second half substitution: “I told Makai [Ashton-Langford] I needed him to help me… without his driving to the basket, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did at the end.”
  • Chris Mack, on the blown final possession: “We only have so many last second plays, and with no timeouts, it was certainly hard to draw one up.”
  • Ed Cooley, on the joy of Madison Square Garden: “I get the goosebumps still from coaching in this building.”

Sights & Sounds. There was an impressively mixed crowd at the first semifinal with what felt like an equal turnout for both sides. But in the second half and overtime — with significant help from Villanova and Butler fans — the cheering was overwhelmingly slanted towards the Friars.

What’s Next? Providence will stick around NYC for another night, one in which Ed Cooley will likely be red-eyed after game-planning for Villanova yet again. The Musketeers will head home, understandably disappointed, but likely still in line for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Justin Kundrat (150 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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