Global warming met college basketball head-on in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Saturday. Temperatures close to 70 degrees, almost unheard of in February created slick conditions on the court as the ice beneath the floor began to melt. Right from the start of the game, wet spots appeared, causing players to slip and slide. The game itself ran more than a half hour longer than usual due to constant stoppages in play in order to wipe up the excess moisture.
As the second half was about to begin, refs huddled with both coaches and all agreed to not call traveling on slips and to simply stop play and inbound the ball if sliding occurred, thereby not penalizing either team for issues beyond their control. Both teams endured the same conditions and both teams were affected.
The game itself was marked by great outside shooting by Marquette, poor free throw shooting by Providence and an incredible grittiness by both squads. The first half stayed close throughout, with Providence clinging to a 37-36 halftime lead, despite six three-pointers by the Golden Eagles, three by super freshman Markus Howard, who had 13 points. PC, though, managed to shoot a sizzling 54 percent from the floor and outrebound the taller Eagles, 18-12, to grab the slim lead with 7 minutes to go in the half.
The second half proved problematic for the Friars. Marquette grabbed a 46-44 lead on a three by Howard at the 15:34 mark and used a prolonged cold spell by PC to quickly stretch out their lead to 53-44 behind a Katin Reinhardt three and Haanif Cheatham layup.
Jalen Lindsey answered with a big three-pointer and two Rodney Bullock free throws pulled PC back to within 4, but Howard’s three, a tip-in off a Jajuan Johnson miss by Luke Fischer, a corner three by Sam Hauser and a layup by Matt Heldt had the cold Friars down, 64-52 with 7:20 to play. By this point, Lindsey had slipped on defense three times, allowing enough separation for Marquette three-pointers, 50-50 balls were going Marquette’s way and the Friars looked to be in trouble.
The comeback started with a clutch Isaiah Jackson jumper and two Jackson free throws. With 3:59 to go, Bullock spun inside for a layup and PC trailed 65-58. Ed Cooley went small to pressure the ball and after a Howard three point miss, Kyron Cartwright drove the ball and fed Bullock for a crowd-inducing three. A missed three by Hauser led to a Cartwright drive, layup and free throw for the three-point play and now PC was within 65-64 with 2:13 on the clock.
Johnson missed a layup that was in and out and Bullock bulled inside for another layup to give PC the lead, but Howard coolly answered with two free throw swishes. With 1:01 showing, Bullock buried two free throws of his own, but Rodney then fouled Hauser on a rebound and Hauser made both free throws for Marquette’s last lead of the game. Cartwright missed a jumper but Bullock rebounded and put it back for a 70-69 edge with :19 ticks left.
After Marquette and PC timeouts, the Eagles worked the ball to Katin Reinhardt, who rose up for a ten foot fallaway jumper that barely missed with just four seconds left and in the rebounding scrum, the ball skittered out of bounds off an Eagle. PC inbounded and Jackson was fouled. The redshirt sophomore calmly knocked down both free throws with 2 seconds left and when Marquette inbounded the ball to Andrew Rousey near halfcourt on the left sideline, he stepped on the sideline for a turnover. Alpha Diallo sealed the win with a free throw with :00.4 on the clock.
“I don’t want the story of the game to be the floor,” said Ed Cooley. “The story should be the toughness and the mental toughness of this team.” True enough. The progression of this team from November through now is breathtaking and the never say die attitude of these players is reflected by this late season win streak. Providence improves to 18-11 overall and 8-8 in the Big East, while Marquette falls to 17-11 overall and also 8-8 in the league. However, PC holds the tiebreaker by virtue of their first-ever season sweep of the Golden Eagles.
The sellout crowd of 13,216 was the largest to attend a Friar game since the Dunk’s renovation and reopening back in 2008. “I want to give our fans credit for this win,” said Cooley. “In my 23, 24 years coaching, this was the best collegiate crowd I’ve ever experienced.”
Bullock led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds, 14 points in the second half. He was joined in double figures by Cartwright with 16 and 8 assists, and Lindsey and Jackson with 10 each; while Marquette was led by Howard with 24 and Reinhardt with 12. PC outrebounded Marquette 36-29, including 12-5 on the offensive glass. Where Marquette hurt PC was the three point line, hitting 11-20 but the Eagles were in deep foul trouble throughout, losing Howard, Fischer and Heldt to fouls. PC, though, was just 18-31 from the free throw stripe, although they did hit their final six free throws.
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The Friars return to action on Tuesday night with a 8:30 tip at the Dunk against DePaul in another must win situation. Hopefully, there will be no repeat of the floor issues that marred this game.