Providence entered Saturday's BIG EAST championship against Creighton on the comfortable side of the bubble, but that's not something the Friars have to worry about after their 65-568win over the Bluejays inside a enthused crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Bryce Cotton capped off his Most Outstanding Player performance with 23 points on 8-for-18 shooting and added five rebounds for the Friars. Cotton has finished with 23 points in all three games he's played against CU this season. Even though he is not the most naturally gifted guard in the league, he's still quite the handful for defenders.
"He's got a great pace to his game," said Creighton's Greg McDermott. "He's not the biggest guy. I don't think he's the most athletic guard in the league, but number one, he's a winner, and number two, he just changes speeds, and he's got a knack of making big shots."
Tyler Harris and Josh Fortune added 10 points a piece for the tournament champions, while LaDontae Henton added nine points and 13 rebounds.
The Friars employed a zone defense that stifled the usually potent Creighton offense. The Jays scored just 17 points in the first half. Doug McDermott scored nine points and was the only CU starter to score in the opening half. Not many coaches has opted to go zone against the dangerous-shooting Bluejays, but Providence coach Ed Cooley explained his reasoning.
"Because I'm crazy," said the Providence coach.
It was a gut feel," Cooley expanded. "I said ‘Hey guys, let's get it.' Again, it just was a feel. It was a gut feel as a coach, and our players bought into it."
The Jays tried to shoot the Friars out of the zone but faltered. After making just 1-of-12 attempts from deep in the first half, the Jays hit 7-of-18 threes after intermission.
Creighton entered the break down by nine, but Doug McDermott did his best the get his squad back in it. The conference Player of the Year scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half. Providence led by 12, its largest lead of the night, with 12 minutes left in the game. In the remaining time, McDermott hit four threes and scored 16 points. His last three got the Bluejays within two, but LaDontae Hinton hit a tough jumper on the Friars' ensuing possession, making it a two-possession game.
"I really thought we were going to win that game," said McDermott, who earned a spot on the All-Tournament team. "Things just felt right up there. We were being real aggressive on the defensive end."
Remove McDermott from the equation, and CU shot 3-of-18 from deep. Key 3-point misses came at unfortunate times for Creighton, especially with the game being played at a tempo Providence prefers. Creighton tried to speed the game up, but instead found itself hurrying and making mistakes early.
"I think the guys were trying to do too much," Coach Mac said. "It's a big stage. There's a lot on the line. I think a part of that's human nature, but once we settled in, I thought we were better."
The early mistakes proved to be too much to overcome. Avery Dingman was the only other Bluejay to reach double figures, as he finished with 10 points. No other Jay scored more than five points.
The Bluejays must now wait to find out where they are headed for the NCAA tournament. Villanova and Xavier join the two tournament finalists and locks for the dance. While Coach McDermott hopes for "a good seed against a bad team in warm weather." he Friars don't care so much where they're headed just yet, other things are on the mind.
"It's a vindicating feeling to know the Providence Friars are Big East champs," said Cotton. "This is something our school and our city hasn't seen in a long time. For us to finally bring that back home, it's top of the list."
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