Overcoming the odds

An orange spork scraped the remaining bits of tuna gravy from a plastic meal tray before being stacked on top of others near a massive stainless-steel door.

20180308_113757.jpg20292713_1477919032269128_3511473219316224822_n.jpgWearing an orange jumpsuit and plastic slippers, I ambled back toward my bottom bunk bed and fluffed my wool blanket-turned makeshift pillow. Draping the other wool blanket over myself, I laid down and stared into a concrete wall, wishing I was anywhere else in the world.

After 10 years of fighting a never-ending cycle of drug addiction, this is where I found myself; Pacific County Jail in South Bend, Washington.

As a kid, I never envisioned this is where I’d be at 26-years-old.

Growing up, I’d been a sports fanatic. I had a massive tub full of tattered baseball cards, and I’d memorized all the names and stats. Most of my pictures from childhood have me wearing Seattle Mariners or Seahawks shirts and hats. I never wanted the life I found myself in at 26.

When I first began experimenting with drugs at the age of 15, I never told myself, ‘I want to be a meth addict.” It doesn’t start out like that. I never envisioned that drugs would take over every aspect of my being.

I wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. I wanted to be Cal Ripken Jr. I wanted to be any junior other than Eric Trent Jr.

My dad, Eric, has been in and out of prison my entire life, never free long enough to build any type of impactful relationship with me. As a result, it festered into the most painful aspect of my life. I resented my dad for never being there for me.

Hanging out at friend’s houses as a kid, I was able to see how fathers interacted with their sons – and I wanted that. I remember standing next to my grandparent’s garage in Menlo, Washington, throwing a tennis ball against the side of the garage with a baseball mitt on, playing catch with myself. All I wanted was a dad to play catch with.

I asked myself for years, “How come he doesn’t want me?”

Through elementary and middle school, I was a troublemaker. Many recesses were spent in the classroom, writing things like, “I will not run in the halls. I will not talk during class” over and over before being allowed outside to recess.

By junior high I was starting to experiment with alcohol and marijuana. After my first time trying each, I was hooked. I had finally found something that alleviated the pain of reality.

By the time I was 21, I was smoking meth and heroin. By 24, I was injecting drugs to get high.

After high school, I worked various commercial fisherman and oyster cannery jobs, no longer than six months at a time each, before succumbing to my addiction, missing work and getting fired. Then the job cycle would start over again.

Coming back from commercial fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska, during the summer of 2010 is when everything started to spiral out of control. I began injecting drugs.

Before long, I was homeless, broke and my addiction had become a bottomless pit with no way out. I could no longer see the light. I cried myself to sleep at night and remember thinking I would never be able to spend a single day of my life sober ever again. I couldn’t picture it.

The only future for me was drugs, institutions or death. Then something remarkable happened.

I had been on the run from police for three weeks with a felony warrant out for my arrest. One morning while hiding out at a meth house, I made a conscious decision to better my life. I turned myself in. A first for me.

I had finally grown tired of running from the police and not sleeping, eating and showering for days at a time. I finally had enough.

While sitting in county jail for three months and contemplating my decisions and failures at life, I decided I didn’t want spend another day of my life in jail eating tuna gravy for dinner and using the restroom in front of six other men.

On June 3, 2013, on a sunny, Southwest Washington morning, instead of running to the nearest drug dealer like I had done so many times before, I ran, literally, to my grandmother’s.

With a head recently shaved with a one-razor Bic, a three-month long beard and wearing the clothes I had been arrested in, I must have been a scary sight.

On the way to my grandmother’s, I ran into an old using friend who asked, “Are you going to party tonight?”

I kept running to my grandmother’s and never looked back.

Fast forward to 2018.

I’m now a senior journalism student at Western Washington University, where I’m the sports editor for the student newspaper, The Western Front. I was recently hired as managing editor for spring quarter 2018.

During the summers, I’m a quote runner for The Associated Press, conducting post-game interviews at Seattle Mariners home games. I’ve freelanced for newspapers across the country, from The Detroit Press to Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah.

On Thursday, March 8, I covered two Big East Tournament college basketball games at Madison Square Garden, part of the College Media Association’s pre-conference sports workshop.

I no longer need the effects of drugs to get me through the day. Instead of using all my time, energy and resources to find drugs, I push myself to become a better person every morning. Instead of suppressing negative emotions and feelings like I had done for so many years, I face them head on.

My senior year in high school, my English teacher got me a job writing high school football articles for the small local newspaper, The Pacific County Press. That is when I knew I wanted to be a sports writer. I couldn’t imagine anything better than getting paid to watch sports. I still can’t

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading to me. That built the foundation for me, and once I started writing, it all started to come together.

My dream is to become a professional sports team beat writer for a major publication.

I will have five years clean and sober on July 6, 2018. I can finally live one day at a time.

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 big man works to inspire friend while chasing his NBA dream

As Madison Square Garden roared its approval at every emphatic dunk from Nate Watson in Providence’s upset win over No.1 seed Xavier Friday night, Friars head coach Ed Cooley didn’t just see a freshman helping key the third-biggest comeback in Big East tournament history.

He saw a vision of Watson’s NBA future.

“He’s going to play in this building some day,” Cooley said. “He was great today. He was unbelievable.”

Watson contributed 14 points on five of six shooting in a season-high 28 minutes when the Friars needed him to help save them from the frying pan’s fire in their second-straight overtime game.

His box score was loud, and Watson is content to let his game do the talking. His postgame press conference was as quiet as the Garden was loud, with his hot pink Nike shoes making a more vibrant statement than any of the words Watson had to offer the mass of reporters.

But those shoes offered more meaning than any pithy postgame quotes could anyway. Watson might be hoping to chase NBA dreams at some point, but for now he’s just trying to support his friend and former high school teammate at Bishop O’Connell high school, Jake Berry, deal with a cancer diagnosis.

“It was hard,” Watson said. “I think he’s doing good now, but I wear these for him.”

Watson actually planned to give the shoes to Berry, but the high school sophomore is a size 16 to Watson’s 18, so instead the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center is trying to inspire his friend with his play on the court.

“The pink, I love pink. I’ve just got to do it for him,” Watson said.

So since Berry can’t walk in Watson’s shoes, the freshman big man is trying to make his friend proud by putting them to good use as he chases his NBA dream. Praise like the Garden vision his coach opined upon after the best game of his young career fuels his belief he can make it a reality.

“That’s my dream, and I want to do that someday,” Watson said. “I feel like that’s possible. I’ve got to keep working, keep lifting and putting extra work in. I’ve got to keep going.”

Where the brightly colored sneakers he wears to inspire his friend will take him is anyone’s guess, but Cooley is hoping that even if Watson is eventually headed on a journey that will have him playing in arenas like MSG more frequently that he’ll always be a Friar.

“Nate is a wrecking ball in there,” Cooley said. “The more confident he is the more he’s learning. We love him. We hope he’s with us forever.”

Men still dominate press row

In a crowded room of approximately 75 sports reporters attending the Providence College press conference at the Big East Tournament semifinals, four of them are women.

In a strictly male-dominated industry, women are starting to break through into the sports media world. However, that was not always the case, and some female reporters still say that there is a tremendous lack of women covering sporting events.

In major publications today, a dramatically higher number of men work in sports. At USA Today, only 10 of the 72 staff members are women. At the Los Angeles Times, only five of the 37 sports staff members are women.

Ava Wallace, a college sports writer for the Washington Post, said that during college she was the first female sports editor for the Daily Northwestern in years. She said that most of the scrutiny she gets about being a female sports reporter comes from the fellow reporters.

“I think that, especially the older ones, they aren’t used to working around women,” Wallace said. “They’ll make comments about your appearance or say things like, ‘Oh we know why you were able to get that quote.’ It all sticks out in your mind no matter how many times it happens.”

A former female sports writer who attended the press conference, but could not use her name in the article for fear of retribution from her employer, said that when she was working as a sports writer, she was never thought of as being a writer.

“When I was writing, there were no women doing it at all,” she said. “When I was covering games here, veteran sports writers like Dick Young and others thought I was the waitress and were asking me to get them sandwiches and stuff. I had to be more patient with people, and I just had to know my stuff.”

Shannon Russell, who has now been in the media industry for 19 years, used to be the Xavier beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Today, she works at the The Athletic. She said that when she walks into stadiums to cover games, some people think twice about letting her in.

“I can’t tell you how many times people will triple check my credential because they think I’m not supposed to be here, but it’s been like that my entire career,” she said.

For some women in the field, one of the toughest things can be attending large events and press conferences where they are the only women in the room. Wallace said that it sticks out to her, especially when covering football.

“It is a really regular thing to look down a row at a press conference and look around and see there are no women in here,” Wallace said. “Everyone is a white man, and there’s not a lot of women of color. It’s something you see because every time you walk into a room, it’s the first thing that jumps out at you.”

Russell said that even though things aren’t perfect, she has seen an improvement in the amount of women in the sports media industry since she first started working in 2002.

“When I first started covering the Cincinnati Bengals, there were no women there,” Marshall said. “Now in 2017, I’ll go into the locker room and we’ve got lots of women. I’ve seen it grow tremendously.”

Russell said that if there is any hint of gender discrimination, she still comes to work confident that she can do her job.

“I think that I go in with a stiff upper lip knowing that I’m supposed to be here,” Russell said. “I’m an award-winning writer and I think it depends on the situation. At Madison Square Garden, you’ve got security and bouncers who maybe aren’t used to seeing so many women, and then they pause, but I still have to make sure that my [credentials] are out.”

The woman whose name cannot be mentioned said she thinks that women can break through the industry even more in the future.

“I have daughters, and the thing that’s different about your generation was that you were raised by women like us, so you should get after it,” she said.

No. 1-seed Xavier toppled in semifinals

Xavier came into the semifinals as the third ranked team in the nation and heavily favored to win. Providence, as a bubble team, needed this game for its NCAA Tournament resume.

The Friars (21-12) got what they needed, coming back from a 17-point deficit to force their second overtime in as many nights in the tournament, outscoring the Musketeers (28-5) 7-4 in the extra period, and taking a 75-72 win to advance to Saturday’s championship game against Villanova.

Xavier dominated the first half on both halves of the ball. Defensively, the Mountaineers did not let Providence get on any runs. Providence looked overmatched much of the half.

Xavier played hard defense and solid transition offense. Providence’s half court offense was no where to be seen in the first half. Xavier also contained Providence star Kyron Cartwright throughout the first half, keeping him scoreless from behind the arc.

Xavier’s domination continued into the second half, as the Musketeers expanded their 14-point halftime lead to 17. They looked poised to get a easy win, but Providence freshman Nate Watson had other plans, scoring 14 points from five-of-six shooting in the second half.

Cartwright was the bigger story after being a nonfactor in the first half, finishing the game with 15 points, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch. Providence nailed six shots in a row.

Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett could never get it going, scoring 13 points, with eight of those from the line. He ended the game shooting just two of 14 from the field, and just one of seven from beyond the arc.

Providence’s second half push sent the game into overtime, the second such game for the Friars in as many nights. Xavier took the early lead, but Providence rallied, leading for the first time since the score was 5-4 in the first half. Cartwright took a key charge at the end of overtime that help Providence win the game.

The loss might cost Xavier its projected No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament.

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.

Providence knocks off Xavier in overtime

For a consecutive night, the Big East Tournament and the Providence Friars treated fans to an overtime game.

Providence College (21-12) knocked off No. 3 Xavier University (28-5) in the semifinals of the tournament 75-72.

Sophomore guard Alpha Diallo and senior forward Rodney Bullock paved the way for the Friars with 17 points each. For the Musketeers, graduate student forward Kerem Kanter led the team with 18 points.

The Musketeers jumped out to an early 14-7 lead after sophomore guard Quentin Goodin had a steal and a driving dunk. Another steal and dunk by freshman guard Paul Scruggs forced Providence to call a timeout after trailing by eight with 11:48 left in the first half.

With 7:43 remaining until halftime, the Musketeers led 28-12. Providence started to claw its way back and go on a 10-4 run to be down 33-22.

At halftime, Xavier extended its lead to 14 as they led Providence 43-29. Scruggs led the way for the Musketeers with 13 points while also shooting 100 percent from every category in the first half. For the Friars, Bullock led the way with nine points and three rebounds.

Xavier maintained a double-digit lead throughout the first seven minutes of the second half until Diallo scored to pull the Friars within nine points.

The momentum shifted in Providence’s favor after a tough shot by senior guard Kyron Cartwright. With 8:06 remaining in the second half, Xavier had seven turnovers compared to Providence’s five. A quick basket by freshman center Nate Watson pulled the Friars within four with 7:41 remaining.

Driving down the lane, Cartwright had a dominating dunk to put the Friars down by a basket. A quick bucket by Bullock led to a tied game at 64 with 3:33 remaining.

The game stayed scoreless for over a minute until Bullock was fouled and made two free throws. With one minute left, Bullock stepped up to the free throw line and hammered home both shots. Cartwright sank another pair of free throws to tie the game up 68 with 12.3 seconds remaining. In the final seconds, Xavier failed to score, driving the game into overtime.

Diallo handed Providence the lead in overtime with a floater to lead 71-70. After a series of missed shots by the Musketeers, Cartwright drained a jumper to take a commanding three-point lead with 49 seconds to go. Xavier senior guard Trevon Bluiett made two free throws to trim the Friars’ lead to only one with 40 seconds remaining.

“When we came out at the start of the half, I had a conversation with Makai [Ashton-Langford] and I told him I needed him to help me,” Cartwright said. “Without him driving to the basket and making plays, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did at the end.”

Cartwright took a charge to give the ball back to Providence for the last possession. Diallo was fouled with 5.7 seconds left and drained both free throws to take a three-point lead. With the clock winding down, Kanter lofted a shot from behind the arc, but not before the shot clock expired, and the Friars upset Xavier in the final seconds.

“We talk about how hard these guys work,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “Along with the excitement that’s in this building and all of the skepticism when we launched the league and you know, god bless the Big East.”

The win puts Providence at 21-12 overall. The Friars will face off against the winner of Villanova University and Butler University in the championship game at 6:30 p.m. March 10.

Clutch plays from Kyron Cartwright power Providence to Big East title game

March Madness has officially begun, and the Providence Friars look ready to bust up the Big East tournament brackets — and maybe some NCAA ones as well — after taking a come-from-behind, overtime thriller Friday night against the Xavier Musketeers.

“What a game, what an atmosphere, what a league,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley after asking for a moment to collect himself with a swig of water at the postgame podium. “We know we were playing against arguably the best team in the country.”

The Friars (21-12, 10-8 Big East) overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to upset the Musketeers (28-5, 15-3 Big East) 75-72 in the semifinal thriller. The loss puts the Musketeers chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in jeopardy, and increases the Friars chances at an at-large bid should they not capture the automatic NCAA tournament slot in Saturday’s championship game.

In a raucous Madison Square Garden, the Friars not only played against the regular season Big East champions and tournament No. 1 seed, they beat them after trailing by as many as 17 behind 15 points and some big defensive plays from Kyron Cartwright, an effort that left him “speechless” after the win.

“I don’t know what happened out there. It just happened,” Cartwright said.

The two teams tied their regular season series 1-1, and to break the tie, one of the sides would need a wild card.

At first it appeared Xavier guard Paul Scruggs was ready to be that x-factor. Scruggs more than doubled his season scoring average of 4.5 points per game mere minutes after entering the contest, scoring 13 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting with two 3-pointers in the first half as the Musketeers jumped out to a 43-29 lead.

But it wouldn’t be enough. A 35-21 run had the garden booming chants of “Let’s go Providence!” as the Friars hit shot after shot to come all the way back, tying the game 64-64 on a jumper from Rodney Bullock.

Xavier had no answers for Providence’s press or Cartwright’s explosion after a halftime talk about “manning up” from Cooley as well as Cartwright’s own conversation with teammate Makai Ashton-Langford.

The freshman guard has often been so buried in Providence’s rotation that he said he didn’t even know he would play against Xavier until his coach called him over to sub in, but Ashton-Langford surprised with four points in 10 key minutes off of the bench.

And while Ashton-Langford capably sopping up minutes might have helped spell the tired Friars in their second overtime game in as many nights, his biggest contribution might have been firing up Cartwright.

“I told him I needed him to help me because I didn’t have it going in the first half,” Cartwright said. “Without his driving to the basket and making plays early in the half, I wouldn’t have been able to do that at the end.”

The “that” Cartwright did at the end was hit a pull-up jumper with 57 seconds left before taking a charge on Xavier guard JP Macura to give his team just enough of a lead to hold on.

Cartwright’s strong night allowed the Friars to become the first fifth seed to advance to the Big East finals since 2013, and reminded his coach of now former guard Bryce Cotton, but Cooley made sure to point out there is still one key difference between the two.

“He won a championship,” Cooley cracked.

After helping Providence to the third-biggest comeback in Big East tournament history, Cartwright is hoping he can equal that particular mark on Cotton’s resume as well and give Providence their first Big East title since 2014.

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

Brunson leads ‘Nova in more ways than one

Jalen Brunson led the Wildcats in points in 2018 with 611, good for 19.1 points per game. He shot almost 41 percent from 3-point range, good for fourth on the team, while leading in attempts. He started all 32 of Villanova’s 2018 regular season games.

Brunson ranks seventh in the Big East in scoring, fifth in field goal percentage, eleventh in 3-point field goal percentage and fourth in assists with an average of 4.8 per game.

Brunson has brought home a slew of awards already this season, including Sporting News’ College Basketball Player of the Year, USA Today Sports Player of the Year, and most recently, the Big East Player of the Year. Brunson is the third Wildcat in four years to win the award, preceded by guards Josh Hart in 2017 and Ryan Arcidiacono in 2015, who shared the award with former Providence Friar and current Chicago Bull, Kris Dunn.

What some people don’t know is that Brunson can get it done off the court as well. He was recently named the Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year, sporting a 3.34 grade-point average, while on track to graduate from Villanova after just three years with a bachelor of arts in communication.

“I’m more proud of that than anything he’s done,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “He came in with a plan to graduate in three years in the communications program. I don’t know anyone at Villanova who’s graduated from the communications program in three years. And I’m not just talking about athletes, I’m talking about regular undergraduates. I’ve never seen anybody do it. To do that and be a great player, it’s incredible.”

Villanova University ranks no. 73 on the annual Forbes ‘America’s Top Colleges’ List. In a world where many of basketball’s finest leave school after just one year, it’s very strange to hear about such a talented player even graduating, let alone graduating early.

Brunson is also in the running for the John R. Wooden Award as the nation’s top player along with his teammate, redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges. Other notable players on the list include Marvin Bagley III from Duke, Deandre Ayton from Arizona and Trae Young from Oklahoma.

Brunson is projected as an early-to-mid second round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, with the latest mock draft projecting him to be selected 38th overall by the New York Knicks, coincidentally the team who inhabits Madison Square Garden on a nightly basis.

The winner of the Wooden Award will be announced April 6, and the draft will be just a few months later, June 21. Only time will tell how successful Brunson will be on those nights, but it is safe to say that his legacy at Villanova is set in stone.

Kamar Baldwin refused to leave The Garden without a win

Kamar Baldwin doesn’t like to lose, but maybe that’s not saying a lot, or enough, at a level where no college basketball player likes to lose. No, Baldwin really doesn’t like losing, so his options became simple. Baldwin refused to leave Madison Square Garden without a win, then willed his way to a career-high 32-points.

Butler head coach LaVall Jordan was going to have to drag his 6-foot-1-inch, 170-pound guard out the Garden doors kicking and screaming back to Indianapolis if Butler didn’t pull off that 75-74 comeback win against Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals.

“I don’t know if it was a scheme,” Jordan said after the game. “It was more will. It was more will than strategy.”

Tyler Wideman was credited with the winning tip-in, but thanks to Baldwin, no one on this team is going back to Indianapolis. At least, not on a Thursday night bus. But that’s Friday’s problem, when Butler faces Villanova for the third time this season.

Tonight Baldwin was raging, and he was doing it in the best way possible — the kind that secures a program-first Big East Tournament win.

“Our motto is ‘Gritty, not pretty,’” Baldwin said. “We battled. We knew it was going to be a battle the whole game. In the huddle, we talked amongst each other — the players — we need to get the stops and get it back. And that’s what we did to trim the lead down.”

Funny, the question at hand was actually addressing Baldwin’s individual performance — 32 points, remember — but look how he turned that around. Baldwin was asked to talk his 12-for-20 night and yet the sophomore never used the word “I.”

Not once. Guess we’ll have to do it for him.

His 3-pointer tied the game for the first time at the 3:35 mark after Seton Hall once held a 14-point lead. The way he scooted past Tyler Wideman’s screen to knock down the shot made Seton Hall doubt themselves just a little.

Just a little was enough for Baldwin to tie the game again with a pair of free throws. 68-68 with 1:39 left. His second shot was ready to swirl off the rim until Baldwin willed it to fall in, because guys like Baldwin really don’t like to lose.

Guys like Baldwin don’t get to programs like Butler by losing, and that last loss to Seton Hall six days earlier in particular was grinding at him. Nine stinking points. Guys like Baldwin don’t slump on 4-for-11 shooting, but that’s what his stat line read on Saturday.

Afterwards, senior Kelan Martin sent Baldwin a text: “We believe in you. We need you.”

So yeah, that was on Baldwin’s mind.

The team’s second-highest scorer (15.6 PPG) had only scored 11 points against St. John’s earlier, then eight and seven points against Creighton and Providence, respectively. It grinded at him. If he scored just nine points last game, then Baldwin was going to set his mind towards scoring almost four times as much this time around.

Which is exactly how Seton Hall lost a game when they led for all but 98 seconds.

“I’m not sure what changed,” Pirates’ Khadeen Carrington said.”It’s just that they went on their run. We had our runs and they just had the last run. But I think we still continued to try to play defense. Baldwin was hot tonight. So it was hard to stop him.”

You could almost see Carrington trying to process the last minutes of the game, never really able to pinpoint the reason why his team lost until he — wait for it — landed on Kamar Baldwin’s name. Seton Hall can strategize defense and block shots all they want, but there’s not much a team can do against a guy who really doesn’t like to lose.

Butler had lost its last five of seven regular season games. And Kamar Baldwin was tired of losing. More specifically, he was tired of losing in the Big East Tournament.

Four years of losing was enough, and he wasn’t going to leave Madison Square until he scored as many points as it took for a win.

Turns out it was exactly 32 points, and finally it was OK for Baldwin to leave. The Garden’s staff members were still there, and so were the media members rewriting their game stories, but Kamar Baldwin had left the building.