Marquette has experienced a bit of a down year by their standards after 8 NCAA appearances in row. However, when you've beaten Providence 11 out of the last 12 times, you come into an arena feeling pretty confident.
Needing a win badly themselves, the Golden Eagles threw everything but the kitchen sink at Bryce Cotton, and thought they'd again gotten the best of a desperate Friars team in double overtime. That of course was not to be. Not on this senior night at the Dunk. Not with Bryce Cotton in a Friar uniform.
As all Friar fans will remember for many years to come, after a clutch LaDonte Henton floater cut a 3 point Marquette lead to 1, Bryce Cotton tied up Marquette's Jake Thomas with 7 seconds to play, forcing a turnover in Providence's favor. When Cotton was then knocked down and fouled on the ensuing Friars inbound play, he calmly sank down the two critical free throws, giving Providence a 1 point lead. One missed three pointer from Todd Mayo later, and the Friars had beaten a Big East team that they had struggled against for years.
The near sellout crowd was a significant factor in powering the Friars to the win. Marquette is a deep and exhausting team to play against for 40 minutes, never mind 2 overtimes. Ed Cooley spoke to the crowd after the game and told them their support "willed the team to victory".
The Golden Eagles had pounded the Friars on the boards 54-39, but Providence shot the ball better from the field and blocked an amazing 13 shots. It was a milestone win for Friar program, and a must win for the Friars, who have been on the NCAA tournament cut line for a while and have not won 20 games since Ryan Gomes and the 2004 Friars were a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Winning 20 games means something for a high major team. At the very least, it means you are close to making the NCAA Tournament. While the Friars still have more work to do, the Marquette win absolutely cemented the toughness of this edition of the Friars, and was their best win in a month.
One More for the Road
The final road game for Providence of the regular season is a return game at Creighton that looms large on Saturday night, the senior night for the expected national Player of the Year Doug McDermott who averages nearly 26 point per game. The versatile scoring machine has played like a better version of former Miami of Ohio All-American Wally Szczerbiak all season long.
McDermott and his fellow Creighton Bluejays clearly want to avenge their loss to Providence on January 18th, 81-68. However, they have other reasons for putting a lot of importance on this game.
Creighton hasn't been itself in some time. They've dropped two in a row on the road to Xavier and Georgetown, but even before that, they barely hung on in a 72-71 win over a talented but mercurial Seton Hall team in Omaha. Creighton really hasn't put together a very good performance since February 19th, when they won by 15 at Marquette. In the process, they made life relatively easy for Villanova, who won the Big East regular season outright, despite getting swept by the Bluejays. Their NCAA seed and ranking have taken a bit of a hit.
Providence would appear to be a significant underdog given the sellout Omaha crowd, McDermott's senior night, and Creighton's own sense of urgency. However, the Friars know they need at least another win to secure an NCAA bid. As gifted an offensive team Creighton may be, the Bluejays aren't a nightmare matchup for Providence. The Friars are a more physical team, and play a relatively deliberate pace that Creighton is not entirely comfortable playing.
Creighton also doesn't have an imposing front court or present a suffocating pressure defense, things that occasionally have given Providence trouble. The book on Creighton recently has been to keep a fresh body on McDermott, but to not double team him much, concentrating on making sure Ethan Wragge and the other Bluejays don't beat you.
The key for Providence is going to be to play relaxed on the offensive end, not rushing shot opportunities or giving Creighton easy transition scoring chances. The sellout Omaha crowd expects to be very loud, so Providence has to find ways to keep the Bluejay fans from becoming much of a factor as well. It's also critical that the Friars out rebound Creighton again and get extra shot opportunities from the offense glass as they did in their win at Providence.
If they do those things and focus on the golden opportunity before them, they will give themselves a real chance to solidify an NCAA bid even before the showdown at the Big East Tournament next week.
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