Providence rallies from 17 down to return to title game

The No. 5-seed Providence Friars will return to Madison Square Garden Saturday to play in the Big East Tournament championship game for the third time in program history, after defeating Xavier University 75-72 in overtime.

After trailing by 14 at halftime, the Friars (21-12) completed a second-half comeback to send the match to overtime. They outscored the Musketeers (28-5) 7-4 in the extra period, tying them for the third-largest come-from-behind victory at halftime in the history of the Big East tournament.

“What a win for Providence College and the character of the young men. I’m proud of them,” Friars head coach Ed Cooley said. “We played a great team, and we’re fortunate to move on.”

This marks the third time the fifth seed has advanced to the finals. The last program to do so was Syracuse in 2013. Providence also became the second program in conference history to win back-to-back overtime games in the tournament.

The Friars clawed their way back into contention in the second half, converting 18 of their 34 second-half and overtime attempts. Senior guard Kyron Cartwright came up big for the Friars. He finished with 15 points and drew a crucial charge that denied the Musketeers a layup on their second-to-last attempt in regulation.

“Seniors have to step up to the moment and help the team, and I thought I did that tonight,” Cartwright said. “I’m going to try to do that tomorrow night and hopefully try to will my team to a championship.”

Cartwright believed the comeback was fueled by Providence’s willingness to hold each other accountable, something he said they didn’t do at the beginning of the season.

“We picked on some people, we started yelling at each other. But we didn’t take it personal, and that was a big thing for us,” Cartwright said.

Three-point shooting was a struggle for both teams in the game. Eight of the 41 combined attempts from behind the arc resulted in points.

Xavier guards Trevon Blueitt and JP Macura, the team’s two highest scorers, nailed only two of their 11 total attempts.

Two of Providence’s freshman, Makai Ashton-Langford and Nate Watson, played key roles for the team in its win. Watson finished with 14 points, missing only one shot from the field in his 28 minutes of action.

Langford earned his only minutes of the game in the second half and gave the team the boost it needed to secure a victory. Cartwright told the freshman he needed help getting going and he believes the young gun delivered.

“Without his driving to the basket and making plays early in the half, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I was able to do at the end,” Cartwright said. “I think he really helped me out a lot out there tonight.”

The last time these teams faced off, Langford finished with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes of court time. He said his play in that meeting gave him the momentum to construct another strong performance.

The Friars will take on the Wildcats of Villanova on Saturday for a chance to secure their third Big East championship in the program’s history. Cooley challenged not only his players but their fans, as well, to show out again in that game.

“I’m really appreciative to all the fans that come out to this great tournament. Hopefully they do again tomorrow,” Cooley said.

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