It is safe to assume that everyone in Friartown had this game circled on their calendars as the importance of this game, wasn’t at any point, understated. Just four days removed from a quintessential win against #22 Butler at the Dunk, Coach Ed Cooley and his hungry Friars had their eyes set on Xavier, a team that has been uncharacteristically vulnerable over the past few weeks. With all eyes set on the month of March, this matchup gave off a particularly enticing vibe. Providence welcomed Xavier with a confident swagger and certainly delivered.
Stumped by the 1-3-1 Zone Defense
Having lost their standout sophomore guard, Edmond Sumner, for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury, Xavier found themselves in another rut, as their leading scorer, Trevon Bluiett, was announced inactive and spent the entire game on the bench in a walking boot, after tweaking his ankle in a loss to #2 Villanova this past weekend. Coach Chris Mack, one of the great minds in college basketball, acknowledged his team’s offensive shortcomings against a defensive minded Friars squad. Instead, Mack decided to fight fire with fire and challenged the Friars with a stubborn 1-3-1 zone defense; leaving PC void of any offensive consistency whatsoever throughout the first half.
Take a look at any box score this season and it isn’t difficult to peg Providence as a team of streaky shooters. Coach Mack hit the nail on the head as PC managed to shoot just 10-30 (33%) from the field and just 3-14 (21%) from beyond the arc in the first half. PC missed their first 8 three-point attempts and 12 of their first 14 shots. Conversely, Xavier outscored the Friars in the paint 24-10, while shooting an impressive 45% from the field.
No Answer for Gaston
The Friars’ inability to score fueled Xavier’s senior center, RaShid Gaston (19 points, 14 rebounds). The 6’9, 240 lb., transfer from Norfolk State, exposed PC’s undersized front court, which has been a liability all season long for Ed Cooley’s program. Earning another start in place of foul-prone Emmitt Holt, Kalif Young posed a much more physically demanding matchup for Gaston, but as the old saying goes; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Young racked up two fouls prior to the first T.V. timeout. Cooley was left with no choice but to throw the undersized Holt at Gaston. To the Friars’ dismay, Gaston had managed a near double-double of 12 points and 7 rebounds by halftime.
The Turning Point
Trailing 29-20 with 4 minutes left in the first half, Providence managed to take Xavier out of their rhythm and took advantage of a sloppy minute of back-and-forth basketball until the half’s last T.V. timeout at the 2:54 mark. After the official stoppage, Kyron Cartwright converted on both free throw attempts to cut PC’s deficit to 7 points with 2:54 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Alpha Diallo stole the ball at mid-court and was ultimately blocked as he attempted to capitalize on yet another Xavier miscue. Although his layup was denied, the crowd at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center of 10,102 came alive and you could literally feel the shift in momentum. PC’s next basket was a deep Rodney Bullock three that cut the Xavier lead to 31-27 with 1:12 remaining. Another minute of trading misses led to the most memorable play of the game. Jalen Lindsey got off an open three pointer with just seconds left on the clock. With time about to expire, his jumper bricked off the rim. Incredibly, Kyron Cartwright elevated himself over three Musketeers to tip the ball in as time expired. His effort and athleticism was truly remarkable.
Firing on All Cylinders
As cliché as it may have been, Cartwright’s heroics at the end of the first half set the tone for the remainder of the contest. Everyone joined in on the scoring barrage as Providence shot an astounding 64.5% from the field in the second half. Four Friars managed double-digit points; Cartwright (17), Rodney Bullock (16), Lindsey (13) and Isaiah Jackson (10). Even Maliek White made his presence felt with 7 points on the night. The freshman knocked down a big three in the first half that kept PC within striking distance and was the beneficiary of two crafty passes from Cartwright as the two speedsters found themselves in consecutive fast-break situations. White took full advantage as he made two assertive takes to the basket and converted both attempts with authority. Alpha Diallo’s steady progress was felt yet again, but tonight on the defensive side of the ball. The sturdy swingman provided a nose for the ball and active hands, as he pestered Xavier’s guards with three key steals, all of which contributed greatly to PC’s turnaround.
It would be a disservice to Isaiah Jackson to downplay his role throughout the game. In just 17 minutes of action, Isaiah presented on both ends of the floor. Whether he was battling for rebounds, penetrating the paint or receiving kick outs from Cartwright, Jackson produced. With Emmitt Holt and Alpha Diallo in foul trouble, Jackson certainly kept PC on track. This was unquestionably Isaiah’s most well-rounded showing of the season.
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The Friars travel to Omaha, Nebraska to take on the #20 Creighton Bluejays on Wednesday, February 22 at 9:00 PM.