Providence rallies from 17 down to stun No. 3 Xavier
By TOM CANAVAN, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — After spending a season overcoming injuries, disappointments and doubters, Providence made another statement with one of the greatest comebacks in Big East Tournament history.
Alpha Diallo hit a go-ahead jumper with 2:22 left in overtime and fifth-seeded Providence rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and stunned top-seeded and No. 3 Xavier 75-72 in the conference semifinals on Friday night.
“What a win for Providence College and the character of the young men,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “I’m proud of them. We played a great team and we’re fortunate to move on. We’re looking forward to whoever the winner of the next game is to prepare and — but these young men, all of them, they played their hearts out and left it out there.”
Not bad for a team that a couple of days ago was considered a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament. Two overtime wins in two days has put that to bed.
“We never thought about the bubble. We just played with confidence,” said senior forward Rodney Bullock after Providence (21-12) beat Xavier (28-5) for the second time in three meetings. “That’s how we play.”
The Friars did that in the final 25 minutes in advancing to the title game against second-seeded Villanova on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Big East tournament record for comebacks is based on halftime deficits. Coming back from a 14-point deficit at the intermission ties the third best in league history, set by Louisville in 2011 against Notre Dame.
This one was stunning. Xavier was cruising with a 52-35 lead five minutes into the second half and all the sudden the game changed.
Providence started hitting and the Musketeers, who ran it up on St. John’s in the quarterfinals, starting missing and may have shut it down too soon, making only nine field goals.
Cartwright’s jumper gave Providence a 73-70 lead, but Trevon Bluiett cut the margin to a point with two free throws with 41 seconds to go.
Isaiah Jackson missed a layup attempt with about 12 seconds to play and the Musketeers rushed the ball up court. Macura went to the rim but Cartwright stood his ground and drew the offensive foul call from referee Jeff Anderson.
Diallo added two free throws with six seconds to go, but Xavier never got off a final shot before the final buzzer sounded and Kerem Kanter’s basket was too late.
By that time, Providence players were running on the court to celebrate at halfcourt after their second overtime victory in as many days. The Friars edged fourth-seeded Creighton 72-68 on Thursday.
“It’s something that we didn’t do early on in the year,” Cartwright said. “But when we needed it most, we did.”
Bullock, who blocked a game winning layup attempt by Macura at the end of regulation, and Diallo each had 17 points. Cartwright finished with 15 and Nate Watson, who was a monster in the lane in the second half, had 10 of his 14.
Kanter finished with 18 points for Xavier, which was 9 of 33 in the second half, including 2 of 11 from long range. Bluiett had 13 on 2 of 14 shooting. Freshman Paul Scruggs had a career-high 15 points on his birthday, including 13 in the first half when Xavier built a 14-points lead.
“We haven’t gone cold very often this year,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “And again I go back to crediting Providence’s defense for that. But, again, it’s a coin flip in terms of who is winning and who is losing. And we’re on the wrong side of the coin.”
Providence, which is seeking its fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth, tied the score three times in the final 3:45 of regulation, the last time came when Cartwright hit two free throws with 13 seconds to go to knot the score at 68.
After electing not to call a time out, Xavier rushed the ball up the foul and Macura’s layup attempt by blocked by Bullock just before the final horn.
The Friars had used 29-12 run to tie the game at 64-all on jumper by Bullock with 3:45 to play. Cartwright had eight points in the run and Watson seven.
A 3-pointer by Macura with 14:45 had extended the Musketeers’ lead to 52-35.
NOTES: Celebrating his 65th birthday, Xavier President Fr. Michael Graham was at the game. … Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, who had hoped his third-seeded Pirates would be in the semifinals, was added Fox Sports pre-game show after the Pirates lost to Butler in the quarterfinals. … Providence is the second team in Big East Tournament history to win back-to-back overtime games. Syracuse did it in 2009. …The Friars are the first No. 5 seed to advance to the finals since Syracuse in 2013. It lost to Louisville.
Providence: Will play in the title game against second-seeded and No. 2 Villanova on Saturday evening. This is its third trip to the championship game and it won the other two (1994 and 2014).
Xavier: Will probably get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
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