Martin scores 23, top-seeded Kansas beats Providence 66-61

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO – Kansas’ Jalen Wilson noticed the excitement on the other side.

The top-seeded Jayhawks went from leading by 13 in the second half to trailing Providence by a point with their season in danger of slipping away.

But the only No. 1 seed left in the NCAA Tournament responded to that brief challenge, stood firm and closed out a 66-61 victory on Friday night to reach the Elite Eight.

“I saw how excited they were getting, they started talking a little bit,” Wilson said. “I’m still confident in my team. We would never get rattled. We’ve seen every type of game, every type of situation. I’m just always confident in whatever comes our way.”

Remy Martin scored a season-high 23 points, and Kansas held Providence to 17 points in the first half.

The Jayhawks (31-6) made it farther than fellow No. 1 seeds Gonzaga and Arizona, both ousted in the Sweet 16, and Baylor, whose title defense ended in the second round. They will face either Miami or Iowa State in the Midwest Region final on Sunday.

Wilson added 16 points and 11 rebounds as the Jayhawks advanced to a regional final for the first time since 2018, when they reached their 15th Final Four. Coach Bill Self is seeking his fourth trip there since he arrived in 2003.

Kansas also moved ahead of Kentucky for most wins in Division I history with 2,354.

“I don’t know that I totally buy in 100 percent that we don’t ever get rattled,” Self said. “But I do think, as Jalen said, our league (the Big 12) has prepared us in the way you play so many close games. Every game is a fistfight. I think our guys have enough confidence that when things don’t go well as a team, they think that they can go make an individual play.”

After fourth-seeded Providence (27-6) took its one-point lead, Kansas responded with a 7-0 run.

Big 12 Player of the Year Ochai Agbaji scored a season-low five points. But with Martin and Wilson leading the way, the Jayhawks won their eighth straight.

“All the practices, everything that we’ve done leading up to this point, we revert back to that,” Martin said. “We work really hard in practice, we do what needs to be done, we listen to Coach.”

And in situations like this?

“Stay calm, let each other know that they’re gonna go through their runs, but as long as we stick together, as we’ve been doing all season, we’re gonna get through this,” Martin said.

Providence finished with its highest win total since the 1973-74 team went 28-4. It was the Friars’ deepest NCAA Tournament run since reaching the regional finals in 1997 under Pete Gillen.

Al Durham scored 21 points. But the Friars shot 33.8% and made 4 of 23 3-pointers.

“I thought our team all year played with a resolve and a resilience that was second to none in America,” coach Ed Cooley said. “These kids – men – battled through a lot of adversity. … I’m not gonna let our men’s heads be down. This was one hell of a season, and we got beat by a great team.”

Durham, who transferred after four years at Indiana, called the Friars “a special group.”

“We were well connected, we all loved each other,” he said.

FRIARS RALLY

Kansas led 26-17 at halftime and 36-23 early in the second half before Providence went on a 9-2 run, capped by Ed Croswell’s three-point play.

That drew a loud roar from the Friars’ fans, and they had more to cheer after Noah Horchler nailed two 3-pointers in about a 50-second span to cut it to 41-40 midway through the half.

Reeves tied it at 44-all when he hit two free throws, and Horchler gave Providence its first lead at 48-47 when he scored on a layup with 5:49 remaining.

JAYHAWKS REGROUP

Wilson drove for a three-point play to put the Jayhawks back on top. Christian Braun drove for a layup, and David McCormack put back a wild miss by Wilson following a steal, making it 54-48 with 4:12 to play.

Agbaji had the Kansas contingent roaring when he threw down an alley-oop dunk to make it 57-50. A.J. Reeves answered with a 3 for Providence, but Kansas remained on top the rest of the way.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars made a huge jump after finishing 13-13 a year ago. They won their first Big East regular-season championship and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.

Kansas: The Jayhawks delivered another solid defensive effort, particularly early on, and made enough shots to keep their championship hopes alive. They led by nine at the break after allowing their lowest point total in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas will try to remain unbeaten since a 74-64 loss at TCU on March 1.

Providence routs Richmond to get to 1st Sweet 16 in 25 years

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Noah Horchler scored 16 points and Providence had its best 3-point shooting performance of the season, routing 12th-seeded Richmond 79-51 on Saturday night to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years.

The fourth-seeded Friars (27-5) will face Kansas, the top seed in the Midwest Region, in Chicago next week.

Providence has made living this season on winning the close ones, 16 in all by single digits. The Friars talked this week about being well aware of their skeptics and motivated by being called the luckiest team in America.

The Big East regular-season champions looked like a juggernaut against Richmond.

Providence controlled the game from the start and went up 21 on the Spiders (24-13) less than two minutes into the second half when Horchler swished a 3 from the corner. The Friars shot 52% from the field, and a season-best 54.5% from 3. They came in shooting 34.3% from long range.

The Friars are past the first weekend of the tournament for the first time in six tries under 11th-year coach and Providence native Ed Cooley.

The Friars last advanced past the second round in 1997 when they reached the Elite Eight. The only other time was 1987 when they went to the Final Four under coach Rick Pitino.

Richmond crashed the tournament by winning four games in four days to take the Atlantic 10 championship as a sixth seed, and then upset Iowa in the first round.

Providence never gave the Spiders much hope to spring another surprise. The Friars scored the first seven points. They were getting open shots and knocking them down, and keeping Richmond’s Princeton offense out of the paint on the defensive end, something Iowa struggled to do.

The Friars’ lead reached 16 when Justin Minaya made a 3 from the wing with 9:17 left in the first half. When Horchler dropped in this his third 3-pointer of the half with 19 seconds left, it was 39-24 and Providence had made 8 of 15 from behind the arc.

Richmond’s iron man point guard Jacob Gilyard put up an air ball at the other end to finish the half 0 for 6 from the field. Gilyard, who had played every minute of the Spiders’ previous six games, finished his decorated six-year college career with four points.

Gilyard finally exited the game with 1:15 remaining, receiving a long hug from coach Chris Mooney. Fellow sixth-year senior Grant Golden (10 points and five rebounds) also was greeted with a warm embrace from his coach.

Cooley allowed some of his walk-ons to play the final minute. Before the regulars made their way to the bench for one last huddle, A.J. Reeves looked to the crowd of Friars fans in the stands, smiled and said: “Sweet 16. Sweet 16.”

BIG PICTURE

Richmond: Nathan Cayo led the Spiders with 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting. The rest of the team was 12 for 42 (28.5%).

The Spiders have been to the regional semifinals twice before, including in 2011 under Mooney.

Providence: The Friars had shot over 50% from 3-point range in only one other game this season. They made 53.3% in a win over DePaul on Jan. 1.

UP NEXT

Providence will play Kansas for the first time.

Durham hits clutch 3 to send No. 11 Providence past Butler

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Al Durham has made plenty of big shots for Providence this season – at the foul line. He was about the last guy anyone would expect to sink a critical 3-pointer.

That’s just how this charmed season has played out for the 11th-ranked Friars.

Durham drained a go-ahead 3 with 41 seconds left for his first basket of the game, and Providence barely got past pesky Butler 65-61 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals Thursday.

“It was a little rough there for a second,” Durham said. “But, like you said, the last shot went in.”

Nate Watson scored a season-high 26 points for the top-seeded Friars (25-4), who avoided an early exit at Madison Square Garden after winning the first regular-season conference championship in school history.

Jared Bynum, the league’s sixth man of the year, added 16 points off the bench and defensive specialist Justin Minaya made two huge blocks as Providence advanced to the Big East semifinals for the first time since 2018 and fifth since the 2013-14 realignment.

“We didn’t do a lot of things great but we did enough to win,” said Ed Cooley, the Big East coach of the year. “And I think today was a microcosm of the type of season we’re having.”

The gritty Friars, playing for the first time in nine days, improved to 11-2 in games decided by five points or fewer. They will face No. 4 seed Creighton, a 74-63 winner over fifth-seeded Marquette, in the opener of Friday night’s doubleheader.

“Wasn’t pretty out there. We definitely showed some rust,” Cooley said. “I think a lot of that credit goes to the way Butler defended us. But just like the season has gone, I guess we saved our best for last.”

Chuck Harris had 14 points and Bryce Golden scored all 13 of his points in the second half for the ninth-seeded Bulldogs (14-19), who rallied late to beat No. 8 seed Xavier in overtime in the first round Wednesday.

Bo Hodges added 10 points and a career-best 15 rebounds. Butler, however, finished 3 for 19 from 3-point range and shot 36% overall.

“You know, it’s March, so the ball bounces one way or the other,” coach LaVall Jordan said. “A lot of credit to Providence. They’ve been doing this all year in close games. They’ve had guys that have made the shot or made the play. They’ve been surviving and advancing way beyond now. But proud of our guys for the effort and the fight.”

In the first of four sold-out quarterfinals, a boisterous crowd was decidedly in Providence’s favor.

The score was tied 55-all late in a back-and-forth second half before Simas Lukosius sank two free throws and Golden made a layup to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead with 2:38 left.

Watson snagged a loose ball out of the air, dropped in a layup and drew a foul with 1:20 remaining. But he missed the free throw that could have tied it.

Minaya blocked a shot by Harris and the ball went out of bounds to Providence. A.J. Reeves found Durham in the left corner and the Indiana transfer knocked down a clutch 3 that gave the Friars a 61-59 lead and left him 1 for 8 from the field.

It was the first 3-pointer since January for Durham, who is 20 for 96 (21%) from behind the arc this season.

“I would laugh at that, too,” Cooley said. “But you know what? He made it. And I trust him. He’s made some big shots for us the whole time.”

Cooley has called Durham his “closer” because of the lefty guard’s proficiency at the foul line – especially down the stretch. He began the week leading the Big East with 153 made free throws.

Minaya came up with another huge block at the other end flying off the weakside and Hodges missed a contested layup. Bynum hit a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds to go before Hodges scored quickly on a drive.

Providence had trouble getting the ball inbounds cleanly, but Bynum finally secured it and passed to a wide-open Durham for a dunk at the buzzer.

Golden made four straight layups, two on smooth passes from Lukosius, to account for all the points in an 8-0 run that gave Butler a 51-45 lead with 9:13 to play.

“I just try to play with a will,” Golden said. “I knew this could be our last game. And I was just trying to give it everything I had for for the dudes that don’t get any college experience after this.”

There were 26 fouls – 15 on Butler – in a tightly called first half that ended tied at 31. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Watson bullied the Bulldogs down low and went into the break with 15 points.

“Nate was a monster the whole night,” Cooley said.

BIG PICTURE

Butler: A disappointing season ended with a heartbreaking defeat for the Bulldogs, but they certainly were a tough out in New York. Butler led for more than 21 minutes in a game that featured 11 ties and 12 lead changes. Since joining the Big East in 2013-14, their only appearance in the tournament semifinals came in 2018.

“It’s hard to look at all those guys in the locker room and know we don’t get another practice and we don’t get another road trip together,” Jordan said.

Providence: A founding member of the league in 1979, the Friars are seeking their third Big East Tournament title (1994, 2014).

UP NEXT

Providence clinched the Big East regular-season crown with a 72-51 win over Creighton at home on Feb. 26 in their only meeting. The other one was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols.

All-Big East: Gillespie unanimous, Champagnie honored again

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Villanova guard Collin Gillespie was the only unanimous pick for the all-Big East team Sunday, and St. John’s forward Julian Champagnie joined him as a repeat selection.

Connecticut guard R.J. Cole and forward Adama Sanogo also were on the first team, along with Marquette forward Justin Lewis and Seton Hall swingman Jared Rhoden.

Gillespie, the co-Big East player of the year last season, is averaging 16.3 points per game to pace the 11th-ranked Wildcats. He leads the conference in 3-point shooting (43.1%) and free-throw percentage (91.5%).

Champagnie is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. He just missed winning the Big East scoring title for the second consecutive year, nipped by Lewis in the final game of the regular season.

Two players from regular-season champion Providence were included on the all-Big East second team: guard Jared Bynum and center Nate Watson. Joining them were DePaul guard Javon Freeman-Liberty, Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins and Villanova guard Justin Moore.

Receiving honorable mention were St. John’s point guard Posh Alexander, Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner, Marquette guard Darryl Morsell and Xavier center Jack Nunge.

The conference’s head coaches vote for the all-conference teams and are not allowed to pick their own players.

The league’s player of the year will come from the all-Big East first team. The winner will be announced Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden before the Big East Tournament opener, when the conference also reveals its coach of the year, freshman of the year and scholar-athlete of the year.

Creighton had three players on the all-freshman team: guard Trey Alexander, forward Arthur Kaluma and point guard Ryan Nembhard, who was chosen Big East rookie of the week six times before a season-ending wrist injury late last month.

Nembhard was a unanimous selection to the all-freshman team, along with Georgetown guard Aminu Mohammed and Marquette guard Kam Jones. UConn guard Jordan Hawkins also made the squad.

Daniels helps No. 11 Villanova top No. 9 Providence 76-74

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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VILLANOVA, Pa. – If the shot-for-shot battle down the stretch between Providence and Villanova was a sneak peek of what’s ahead in March, Madison Square Garden may be in for quite a show.

Caleb Daniels scored 20 points, Eric Dixon added 15 and Collin Gillespie 14 as No. 11 Villanova beat No. 9 Providence 76-74 in a fantastic Big East matchup on Tuesday night.

“The Big East Tournament is going to be incredible,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Just one more week.

The Big East regular-season champion Friars (24-4, 14-3) and Wildcats could not shake the other over the final furious minutes. Providence’s A.J. Reeves hit a 3-pointer from long distance that brought the Friars within 62-60. Justin Moore hit a 3 for Villanova, and that was answered by one from Providence’s Jared Bynum.

With Providence trailing by four, Nate Watson picked up his fourth foul with 2:35 left in the game on a charge call that sent furious coach Ed Cooley on the court to argue.

Justin Minaya buried a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left that pulled Providence within 69-68.

The Wildcats (22-7, 15-4) survived Providence’s press and sealed the win from the free-throw line, one more close one pulled out in the rugged conference.

“How many more of these do we need,” Wright asked. “We’ve been in these on the road. We’ve been in these at home.”

How does another one or two at Madison Square Garden sound?

Bynum scored 19 points for the Friars. Led by five each from Noah Horchler and Reeves, Providence hit 15 3-pointers.

“We made too many mistakes when the game was close and we couldn’t get over the hump,” Cooley said. “The players showed a lot of grit, a lot of resolve.”

The Friars won their first Big East title without beating Villanova. The Wildcats won two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island, and entered this one a 10-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The Big East championship tipped toward Providence after the team had three games canceled because of COVID-19 protocols. The Friars had three straight games wiped out in mid-January at Creighton and Seton Hall and against Connecticut. UConn and Seton Hall were both ranked this season.

So, who knows? The home finale for Villanova could have been for the Big East title.

While another Big East title for Wright would have been nice, the true measuring stick for the program is what lies ahead — note the two national championship banners won on his watch.

The Friars and Wildcats could meet again next week in New York at the Big East Tournament. Those games will mean more for the NCAA tourney, where earning at least a No. 3 seed in the East Regional could keep the Wildcats in line for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Philadelphia.

The Friars trailed by 14 early but showed their championship mettle on the road to open the second half. They hit six straight 3s to start and Horchler buried his fourth of the game to bring Providence within four. Bynum hit a tough basket in the paint off a turnover and followed with a pull-up jumper that tied the game 48-all. Gillespie and Minaya kept the game tied — and whet the appetite for a potential rematch next week in New York.

Daniels scored eight straight points and Justin Moore hit a 3 for a 62-57 lead that gave the Wildcats just the breathing room they needed down the stretch.

“I think that’s what the Big East is about,” Gillespie said.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars are locked into the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament and play March 10 against the winner of the No. 8-9 game.

“I’m going to approach it for us to continue to improve,” Cooley said. “We have to get better handling the ball, rebounding the ball and on-ball defense.”

Villanova: Gillespie suffered a torn ligament in his left knee in last season’s home finale and missed both postseason tournaments. He returned for a fifth season and played in his 147th career game. He’s one shy of the school record set by former teammate Phil Booth.

SAFE KEEPING

The Wildcats had only five turnovers to Providence’s 16. Daniels had none in 30 minutes and Gillespie had none in 37.

UP NEXT

Providence: Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova: Play Saturday at Butler. Villanova has a 15-5 career mark against the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga, Arizona remain atop AP Top 25 in week of changes

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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The top six and seven of the top nine teams in the AP Top 25 lost on the same day last week, an unprecedented day of chaos that led to some big changes in this week’s poll – everywhere but at the top.

Gonzaga and Arizona remained the top two teams in the poll released Monday, holding steady despite both losing their most recent games.

The Zags received 43 first-place votes from the AP’s 61-person media panel after being a unanimous pick last week. No. 3 Baylor had four first-place votes and No. 4 Duke picked up 11. Auburn rounded out the top five.

Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Purdue, Kansas and Kentucky all lost on Saturday, marking the first time in the AP poll era (1948-49) that the top six teams lost on the same day. No. 9 Texas Tech also lost, setting another record for most top-10 teams losing in one day.

“It’s kind of life in late February and early March, especially on the road,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the Zags’ 67-57 loss to No. 19 Saint Mary’s to close out their regular season.

Baylor was the biggest beneficiary of its Saturday win, moving up seven spots after beating Kansas 80-70. The Jayhawks fell one spot to No. 6 with the loss.

Auburn lost three spots from last week after losing to No. 13 Tennessee. No. 7 Kentucky fell a spot after losing to No. 14 Arkansas and Purdue dropped four places to No. 8 with its loss to Michigan State.

Got all that?

In all, every team but four got shuffled in this week’s poll; only Gonzaga, Arizona, No. 14 Houston and No. 16 Southern California held steady.

No teams fell out or moved into the poll, but things are getting awfully interesting with conference tournaments just around the corner.

BATTLING BEARS

Baylor, the reigning national champion, looked like a good bet to get back to the Final Four at the start of the season after opening 15-0 while holding the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 for five weeks.

Then things got a little shaky.

The Bears lost consecutive home games for the first time since 2015-16, then injuries began piling up, including a gruesome leg injury to forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.

After tumbling down the poll, Baylor may be finding its footing. The Bears won a rematch over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and did the same against Kansas on Saturday, improving to 10-1 against top-10 teams the past two seasons.

“I know our team looked a little bit different in the beginning of the year than we do now but don’t count these guys out,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They persevere.”

RISING/FALLING

Baylor’s jump was the biggest of the week by gaining seven spots. Tennessee, Arkansas and Saint Mary’s all climbed four spots.

No. 17 UCLA and No. 20 Illinois had the biggest drops (five spots). The Bruins lost to Oregon before beating Oregon State last week and the Illini lost to No. 23 Ohio State before knocking off Michigan.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences led the way again this week, each with five teams ranked. The Big 12 had four ranked teams, with the Pac-12 and Big East getting three each. The West Coast Conference had two ranked teams for the second straight week, with the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic and Ohio Valley conferences at one each.