And sometimes that play, in the grand scheme of things, is totally forgotten. So much happens afterward and so much time is left when it happens, that only upon further reflection do you realize that the play even meant anything. Such was the case in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic championship game between Providence College and Notre Dame.
Two undefeateds squared off for a heavyweight bout that saw both teams land haymakers and keep coming back for more, with Providence ultimately prevailing, 75-74. The play in question occurred in the second half of an evenly matched game when PC’s LaDontae Henton missed a short jumper and the Irish’s V.J. Beachem grabbed the uncontested rebound. Except he didn’t. As he descended, the ball slipped out of his hands and flew back up and through the basket for a hoop credited to Henton. Those two points, which the Friars, by all rights wouldn’t have had, would prove critical to the final score.
Aside from that gaffe, the game was a classic back-and-forth contest between two never-say-die teams. So, what did we learn from Providence’s two day foray to Mohegan Sun?
We learned that Providence is a resilient team. The Friars, who bombed Florida State on Saturday, 80-54, started the game exactly the opposite from their Saturday start. PC blitzed the Seminoles 11-0 out of the gate and built a 31-11 lead before Florida State even started chipping back into it. Against Notre Dame, PC found itself down 10-4 before settling down.
But settle down they did. The Friars roared back and caught Notre Dame and from there, the game see-sawed back and forth. The Irish, led by Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Zach Auguste and Steve Vasturia, are a disciplined, patient, fine shooting offensive team and as good as PC is defensively, Providence struggled to get stops throughout the game. In addition, Connaughton and Vasturia crashed the boards on misses and provided the Irish with many second chance opportunities.
For the game, Notre Dame outrebounded and in many cases, outhustled Providence. PC grabbed just 3 offensive rebounds. But the Friars survived because of their resiliency and ability to make big play after big play in the clutch.
We learned that LaDontae Henton is way better than his preseason ratings. But we knew that already. Henton, even without Beachem’s gift, had a career game; not just because he scored a career high 38 points, on 14-19 shooting, but because of the nature of his shot making.
Every Henton bucket in the second half was clutch. He hit 4-8 threes and every one was critical. He buried 6-7 free throws and every one was critical. Every time Notre Dame hit a basket or a three to go up, Henton answered. And on defense, just maybe, he got a fingertip on Connaughton’s last second twelve-footer, causing that to fall short into Kris Dunn’s hands. For a team that was used to superhuman performances by Bryce Cotton last year, Henton delivered a superhuman performance that delivered a huge win.
We learned that this team knows how to win. Winning the Big East Tournament last year was invaluable to this program and the culture that Ed Cooley speaks of. The returnees – Henton, Tyler Harris, Carson Desrosiers, Ted Bancroft – all have a swagger and an attitude coming down the stretch of big games that says one thing: We will not be denied.
When Notre Dame kept breaking deadlocks to go ahead with hoop after hoop, when the Irish jumped out to a 66-58 lead, the only people panicking in the arena were the fans. The players never lost faith. They’d been through this before. Desrosiers calmly knocked down four free throws, Dunn saved an overthrown pass (and gave coronaries to countless Friar fans when he lay writhing on the floor after the play) and the ball found its way to Henton, who calmly banked it in, and Henton continued to make baskets.
We learned that PC can overcome adversity. One minute into the game, freshman Jalen Lindsey, who had hit 5-6 threes against Florida State and was finally crawling out of his cocoon, knocked down a three and landed on his defender’s foot, rolling his ankle. That was it for Lindsey, who headed for the locker room and emerged later in the half in sweats and on crutches. The slender sniper was gone for the game.
Later, during the aforementioned play, Dunn crashed out of bounds past the baseline and lay in obvious pain on the floor. Friartown held its collective breath as he limped off the floor and into the tunnel where he ran to get loose and then, limping noticeably, he reentered the game and was involved in several big plays down the stretch. All this after foul trouble had kept him sidelined for half the game. And yet, PC persevered through adversity.
And in the end, the Friars survived. They – primarily Henton – made the big shots, with his winning free throws coming with 14.8 seconds on the clock. An eternity, leaving the Friars in position to win, IF they could get a defensive stop, something they’d struggled with all game.
First, Grant drove the right side of the basket, was met by defensive pressure and heaved a prayer toward the basket that badly missed. Harris grabbed the rebound but was shoved out of bounds, giving Notre Dame another final shot with six seconds left. Was there contact on Grant? A love tap, perhaps, but even in a game like this one, where the referees were making calls that they saw only in their imagination, it’s rare to get a whistle at that point in the game.
Second, Henton contested Connaughton’s last second jumper and when Dunn corralled the short ball, PC had their first in-season tournament championship not played in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, since winning the Chaminade invitational in 1984. A long drought, but one of many droughts being put to sleep by Cooley and crew.
And now, a chance to rest and heal, practice and eat turkey and then face Yale at 4 p.m. on Friday at home. Happy Thanksgiving, Friar fans!
Henton keys tournament championship
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