Providence College slipped past Xavier, 69-66, in overtime Thursday evening at the Dunk, and it was no easy task. In fact, the Friars made life much harder on themselves than was necessary. PC improved to 15-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big East, good for a first place tie.

The Friars almost collaborated on a textbook that might have been called, “How to give a basketball game away,” but Providence was able to write a final chapter in overtime that spared fans and players alike what would have been a truly devastating loss.

In Ed Cooley’s words, the Friars “controlled the game for the first 38 minutes and 41 seconds” before almost completely unraveling. What happened in the final two minutes of the game took years off the lives of the 8,250 fans who witnessed it.

Up 60-51 after a Tyler Harris free throw, PC wouldn’t score again in regulation. Matt Stainbrook missed a layup but Harris badly misfired on a three point attempt. After being held in check throughout the game, Xavier’s Myles Davis calmly swished a long three pointer with 1:41 left. PC tried to advance the ball but LaDontae Henton threw a sharp pass out of bounds upcourt on the left sideline and Jalen Reynolds worked his way loose for a layup, which trimmed the lead to 60-56 with 1:18 to play.

Now attempting to bring the ball up against pressure, Harris lolly-popped a pass back outside over an active defense and Jalen Reynolds grabbed the ball and raced downcourt for an emphatic slam. Now the score was 60-58 with :59 left and the Friars were officially in white knuckle mode.

On the next trip upcourt against pressure, Kyron Cartwright attempted a bounce pass at the top of the key which was intercepted by Davis and run back for a game-tying layup. Friar ball with 26 seconds left and a chance to win on a last play. Kris Dunn held the ball, taking in what the defense was giving him. The play was to get the ball to Henton for the last shot, but Xavier doubled him, so Dunn went to Plan B, which was Carson Desrosiers, open at the top of the key. Desrosiers lined up a shot but missed at the buzzer and the Friars prepared for yet another overtime session.

“My fault,” said Cooley. “I had timeouts and should have called one when I saw we weren’t getting our shot. There’s another play I would have run. But it was a good look. If you told me we would get an open jump shot at the top of the key, which, along with a layup is the easiest shot, I’d take it.”

Overtime was a struggle. Neither team had an easy time scoring. Half of the overtime had passed before Harris put PC up by two on a short shot in front of the rim. Stainbrook answered with a lane jumper and then Xavier went up on a J.P. Macura layup. Time was running out on the Friars and LaDontae Henton took matters into his own hands. First, he twisted inside for a hoop that knotted the score, then, after a Desrosiers block of Stainbrook, Henton drove the lane and buried a shot through contact that put PC up 66-64 and earned him an and one, which he calmly knocked down. Down three, Davis missed a three pointer and Dunn rebounded and was fouled. He made one of two with seven seconds left and Dee Davis raced down for a layup that cut the lead to two with five seconds left. Desrosiers was fouled and again, made one of two, giving Xavier one final chance. The Musketeers got the ball into Remy Abell’s hands, but harassed by Ted Bancroft, he couldn’t get a shot off and PC had escaped.

It wasn’t like this at all for the first 38 minutes of the game. Xavier came into the game as the highest scoring and best shooting team in the Big East, but PC’s defense clearly gave them more than they could handle. Dunn was harassing point guard Dee Davis and jumping passing lanes and the Friars were tough on the perimeter. About the only place where Xavier was hurting PC was inside, as Stainbrook would set up in the high post and zip passes down low to Reynolds and James Farr for layups.

PC took a 32-20 lead into the lockerroom and extended that lead to 38-24 in the second half. The Friars played with 10 point leads until three minutes remained in the game. Amazingly, Xavier hit just 9-28 field goals in the first half and every field goal was a layup. They were 0-7 from three and did not make a single jump shot in the half. PC also outrebounded Xavier, 23-15 and kept the Musketeers from establishing themselves at all on the boards.

“It felt like we didn’t make a jump shot all game,” said coach Chris Mack. Known as excellent three point shooters, Xavier was just 2-16 for the game and didn’t connect on their first three until Myles Davis hit one with 5:49 left. In addition, the Friars ended with a 44-40 advantage on the glass, including 12-9 on the offensive boards, although Xavier outscored PC in the paint by a 40-22 count.

LaDontae Henton led the Friars with 24 points and 10 rebounds, while Kris Dunn chipped in with 20 points, 10 boards and 8 assists. Dunn was especially effective in the early going, putting PC up early with multiple baskets. Stainbrook paced Xavier with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Reynolds hurt PC inside with 14 points and 13 rebounds and Myles Davis had 16 points on 6-11 shooting.

In what is becoming a familiar refrain from opposing coaches, Chris Mack commented, “They really hurt us with their zone. Their length in that zone is really tough. They’re an NCAA team.”

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