Villanova on quest to earn third Big East Tournament title in four years

Villanova secured its place in Big East history by becoming the third program in conference history to appear in four straight championship games after defeating Butler 87-68 Friday.

The Wildcats will have a chance to earn their fourth Big East conference championship as they take on Providence College on Saturday. A win would mark their third championship in four years and would move them into third place in all-time tournament victories.

This year’s team suffered three of its four losses in the month of February. However, it played two of its best games in the tournament, winning by an average of 21.5 points. Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright, however, doesn’t believe the time of year affects the team’s play.

“I think this year has been a unique year where we just had crazy injuries,” Wright said. “Now that we’ve got everybody back, we’re back kind of playing how we did before the injuries.”

Providence College is the lowest-seeded opponent Villanova has faced since the 2014-15 Xavier Musketeers, a game the Wildcats won by 17 points.

Wright does not believe the same outcome will translate just because his opponent is a low seed, stating that the Friars’ length and athleticism on defense can really disrupt the Wildcats’ offensive flow. He’s focused on making sure his team plays well on both sides of the ball.

“We’re more concerned with how good Cartwright is, how well Lindsey shoots the ball and how to defend them,” Wright said. “They do a great job defending us. We have to be able to score on them.”

Although Wright would not concede that the team is now hitting its stride, he did praise how well his unit defended against Butler, despite its 48 percent shooting clip in the game, a trait he said the team must continue if it wants to win Saturday.

“It might have been one of our best defensive efforts,” Wright said. “This is a hard league to defend in. So even though they shot 48 percent, I thought they (Villanova) played pretty well.”

The Wildcats have secured victories in eight of their last nine meetings with the Friars in the Big East Tournament. Wright will not change their play style to try on capitalize on their opponent’s fatigue after playing in two straight overtime games.

“We’ll be more concerned with what we do,” Wright said.

The championship game will tip at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Madison Square Garden.

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.