During Ed Cooley’s tenure at Providence, just when it seemed as if the program was turning the corner something would go wrong. Whether it was an injury or a suspension, it always seemed as if the Friars were being forced to fight with a hand tied behind their back due to a lack of depth.
But the key for Providence is that they continued to fight, and on Saturday night the program earned a reward in the form of its first Big East tournament crown since 1994. Bryce Cotton, who struggled offensively in wins over St. John’s and Seton Hall, scored 23 points to lead Providence to a 65-58 win over No. 14 Creighton and remove any doubt as with regard to their NCAA tournament prospects.
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Cotton’s led the way for Providence all season long, playing an average of more than 40 minutes per game and scoring 21.3 points and dishing out 5.9 assists per contest. But in order for the Friars to win three games in as many days he needed help, and sure enough his teammates stepped forward. Josh Fortune (ten points vs. Creighton) scored 24 points against St. John’s, with LaDontae Henton (nine points, 13 rebounds) going for 26 and 14 in the win over Seton Hall.
With those contributions, along with those of Kadeem Batts, Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris, Providence positioned itself to have the star take them home and Cotton did just that.
Providence’s defense was as important as Cotton’s offensive production, as their 2-3 zone limited the Bluejays to 8-for-30 shooting from beyond the arc. Against a team as good as Creighton is offensively identifying shooters is critical, and Providence did a good job of this for much of the night. Rebounding in the zone can be an issue for some teams but it wasn’t for Providence, which limited Creighton to just seven offensive rebounds and won the battle on the boards 32-29.
Doug McDermott, the focus of Providence’s defensive efforts, scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half and the Bluejays were able to pull to within three with 2:29 remaining. But two Batts free throws reestablished the separation Providence worked so hard for, and they were able to make the plays needed to close out the game.
This week wasn’t easy for Providence, but neither was the season as a whole. With limited numbers the Friars continued to fight, never losing sight of their goal. And on Saturday night, the Friars were rewarded for their efforts with a Big East title.