Providence started sloppy with their passes while the Bluejays came out with purpose and quickly took advantage of their mismatch with Justin Patton. Providence managed to jumpstart their offense with a steal by Alpha Diallo and a fancy finish at the rim, tying the game, 8-8, at the 15:38 mark.
Even though it had limited success with the inside game, PC made a conscious effort to get the ball into Emmitt Holt on the block, presumably in an effort to get Patton in foul trouble. On defense, Providence appeared to mix their defenses, although overall their man-2-man defense was active and effective in forcing turnovers and tough shots. At the under 12 timeout, PC was up, 13-10. Providence went cold around the 10 minute mark until a Diallo 3 with 8:45 to go in the half and the Friars clinging to a 18-17 lead at the under 8 timeout.
Both Kalif Young and Emmitt Holt picked up two fouls which was a major concern. Providence went small to close out the half. Neither team could get into a rhythm due to some tenacious defense but also a lot of whistles and some ugly and rushed shots from both teams. Creighton was 1-11 from three in the first half, but Providence struggled once again from the free throw line, going 5-11, a major issue in post-season play. Cartwright’s floater with 2 seconds left in the stanza gave the Friars a slim 3-point lead at the half, 30-27. Alpha Diallo led the Friars with 8 points, and Creighton’s leading scorer was Marcus Foster with 9 points.
In the 2nd half, Creighton tied the game quickly at 30 with 2 free throws after Alpha Diallo foolishly picked up his fourth foul, sparking an 8-0 run. PC was ice cold, and turning the ball over frequently, only finally scoring at the 15:32 mark on a Cartwright layup, trimming the Creighton lead to 37-32. Cartwright was not himself on this night, and sometimes tried to do too much on his own, and the Providence offense was not moving the ball well leading to turnovers and ill advised passes out of trouble. Creighton feasted on Friar miscues in transition and opened up a 10-point lead, 44-34, at the 11:41 mark.
Ed Cooley quickly reinserted Alpha Diallo and Maliek White to spark his offense and the Friars went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 4 with 9:28 remaining. The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes with Creighton holding a steady 6-8 point lead. Every time Providence would string together a couple baskets, they would carelessly turn it over, preventing them eliminating the deficit. When combined with 53% free throw shooting, it was not a pretty sight. Rodney Bullock’s 1-8 performance from the field epitomized the Friar frustration.
Khyri Thomas was asked about his defense on Bullock:
“I didn’t do anything special to guard Bullock, he was just passive tonight compared to our other two games (vs. Providence).”
The Providence defense was solid all night, limiting Creighton to 42% for the game, but it was the Friars going 14-26 from the free throw line and committing 22 turnovers – 15 in the second half - that really told the tale of this game. Creighton was simply better, particularly in the second half when they built their lead in the first ten minutes.
“I thought we were lackadaisical. We just didn’t play well,” said Ed Cooley. “We picked a bad time to play our worst game in 5 or 6 weeks… In tournament play, you can’t play poorly and expect to win, so hopefully we have another game left in us in the NCAA Tournament.”
It was the first Friar loss since an overtime defeat at Seton Hall on February 8th. Providence will await their fate on Selection Sunday, but they should remain hopeful when compared with other bubble team resumes. The view here is that there are not enough ‘bid stealers’ out there to dislodge the Friars from the NCAA field, so the season will likely continue for Providence in the Big Dance. My expectation is that the Friars will end up 10 seed at the very best and quite possibly an 11 seed, but the Selection Committee can pull some surprises, and nothing is assured. Buckle up for a tense few days.