Tar Heels End Friars' NCAA Hopes

There are many painful ways to lose a basketball game and have your season come to an end. For Providence College, the 79-77 loss to North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament will certainly rank among the more painful losses of the season.

The game's final 1:20 will forever haunt Friar fans. A Carolina turnover led to a Bryce Cotton basket and a 77-74 PC lead and timeout. During the timeout, Ed Cooley told his players to watch for a three point attempt by either Marcus Paige or Lesley McDonald, but coming out of the timeout, Carolina raced up the court and Paige found open space on the left and drained a three to knot the score.

With 35 seconds left, LaDontae Henton drove the lane into the teeth of Carolina's defense and a shot at the rim hung but would not fall. "I feel I should have made the shot," said Henton. "It was at point blank range."

With Carolina playing for the last shot, Brice Johnson shuffled in the lane and threw up a shot, which missed, but the rebound was corralled by James McAdoo, who was fouled by Carson Desrosiers with 3.5 seconds left. McAdoo made one of two free throws and was able to grab his own rebound off the miss. He made the first and missed the second again for a 79-77 lead with 1.7 seconds left and when Cotton lost the ball out of bounds in the scramble, PC's last chance was gone.

Carolina led 39-36 at the half and Providence was fortunate to be that close. A 35-25 start to the second half, led by a 23 point second half performance by Cotton, had PC up 71-64 with four and a half minutes to go, but North Carolina made the plays down the stretch to fight back.

Statistically, Providence had the edge. PC shot 53% (28-53) from the floor to Carolina's 47% (33-71). The Friars made 4-16 three pointers compared to the Tar Heel's 4-15. PC made 17-21 free throws (81%) to Carolina's 9-13 (69%). PC blocked 8 shots to UNC's 4 and had 10 turnovers to Carolina's 9. Those numbers would ordinarily point to a PC win. Until you look at the rebounding totals.

The Friars were dominated on the boards after outrebounding most opponents all season, and that's where the game's difference was. North Carolina outrebounded PC, 40-26, including 21-9 on the offensive glass, setting up a number of second chance opportunities that killed Providence.

Not to be lost in the heartbreaker was the performance of senior point guard Bryce Cotton. Cotton poured in a career high 36 points, on 13-23 shooting, along with 8 assists and 5 rebounds. He dominated the second half and scored in every way imaginable, from outside jumpers to twisting layups off the glass. "My whole thought defensively was what can we do to stop him? He was truly dominating the game," said UNC coach Roy Williams.

Cotton had some help, but not enough. Kadeem Batts clearly was bothered by Carolina's size, length and athleticism up front, and attempted only 3 shots, scoring 8 points, with just one rebound. Josh Fortune struggled to a 1-5 shooting night. Carson Desrosiers played 30 minutes and had 2 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. Tyler Harris had a big late miss, but played a solid game, with 13 points on 5-8 shooting. LaDontae Henton was Cotton's biggest help, powering inside against the bigger Tar Heels for 16 points and 11 rebounds.

With the loss, PC's season comes to an end with a 23-12 record. While a haunting loss, the loss does not define the season. Providence reemerged as a program of relevance in the new Big East , won it's second Big East Tournament championship and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in ten years. The foundation for the future looks bright indeed.

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