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.

LaVall Jordan: The Man Who Wanted Butler

While the Butler Bulldogs may have regressed this year in terms of win total and regular season rankings, players, fans and the people who work around the team are optimistic about the future of the program after what they’ve seen from first-year helmsmen LaVall Jordan.

Jordan, the winningest player in Butler history, the two-time all conference player for the Bulldogs, three-time NCAA tournament participant, the coach who was a mere game away from bringing an 11-win Milwaukee team all the way to the NCAA tournament just last year, is now the coach behind Butler’s first-ever Big East Tournament victory.

The 75-74 win over Seton Hall demonstrated Ball’s coaching skill, as Butler trailed by seven in the game’s final minutes. The win is one Butler aficionados of the world hope is only the beginning of what will be a program-defining legacy.

“Jordan is a Butler man through and through,” said Butler Collegian sports editor Dana Lee.

Jordan made that evident at his introductory press conference.

“I can’t wait for the first game when I hear the chant: ‘BU – TLE – R U a Bulldog’…and I might stop coaching for a second and say, ‘Hell yeah,’” he said.

Jordan’s connections to Butler go beyond his playing days and in fact extend through most of his post-collegiate life.

After returning from a one-year stint playing overseas in Europe, he served for four years as an assistant on coach Todd Lickliter’s Butler staff before following him to Iowa, where he assisted Lickliter for three more years.

When Brad Stevens, Lickliter’s replacement, left Butler to lead the Boston Celtics in 2013, Jordan was one of the leading candidates to replace him, but was eventually passed up on in favor of Brandon Miller.

According to those who are close with him, he never stopped pining for the Butler job, and after missing out on it the first time was more than willing to lie in wait for another opportunity. In the meantime, he honed his coaching chops as an assistant coach at Michigan before eventually undertaking his one-year stint at Milwaukee.

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said his three matches against Jordan this year have impressed him.

“I think LaVall has – the league is lucky to have him,” Willard said. “Obviously Butler is lucky to have him. And he’s done a phenomenal job.”

More specifically Williard pointed to Jordan’s superior usage of Martin Wideman and Kamar Baldwin down the stretch, something he believes Jordan improved upon from earlier in the season.

If the reaction of fans, team media and even his own rivals are anything to go by, Butler is indeed lucky to have him for any potential tournament run now, and for however many seasons his passion for Butler University basketball continues to light up Hinkle Fieldhouse and wherever else the Bulldogs need someone to steer them through it all.

Villanova dominates the 2nd half, cruises to 88-64 victory over Marquette

The Villanova Wildcats opened up their Big East Tournament play in decisive fashion against seventh-seed Marquette, pulling away in the second half to a 94-70 final score.

Redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges was the key for the Wildcats, scoring a team-leading 25 points and eight rebounds while adding four assists and a steal. Junior guard Jalen Brunson was also a big factor, dropping 21 points, including three of six from behind the arc, and three assists on the night.

“I think they showed they played last night,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They were a little sharp with us early, but we hung in there. I think the leadership of Jalen [Brunson] and Mikal [Bridges] kept everybody together.”

The game started out slow, with both teams shooting fewer than 25 percent from the floor and combining for only 4-18 from 3-point range. No team lead by more than five points until 12 seconds before the end of the first half, when Villanova pulled ahead by seven on a Phil Booth layup.

It was all Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey for Marquette in the first half, combining for 30 of the Golden Eagles’ 34 points. They rained threes on Wildcats for as long as they could, going 4-6 and 3-8 from the arc respectively.

Marquette’s victory against DePaul on Wednesday began to show through during the second half, with Villanova outscoring them 53-34 and running the Golden Eagles’ legs out from under them. The Wildcats had a variety of contributors in the half in addition to Brunson and Bridges, including redshirt junior guard Phil Booth, who tacked on 13 points and two assists, and redshirt junior forward Eric Paschall, who scored nine and also grabbed two of his seven rebounds on the night.

“We just gave them too much space in the first half,” Wright said. “I thought our guys did a great job in the second half, they got a little worn down, and we were able to stay fresh.”

The Wildcats were able to neutralize Markus Howard in the second half, holding him to just seven points and 1-4 from 3-point range after he scored 16 on 4-6 in the first half. As a team, their 3-point field goal percentage dropped from 46.7 in the first to just 33.3 during the second half.

Villanova really began to pull away with 14 minutes left in the second half, when a long 3-pointer from Booth put the Wildcats up by 15. At the five-minute mark, redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman hit another three that pushed their lead to 24. The Golden Eagles’ were never able to get back under 20.

For the game, Villanova outplayed Marquette in almost every statistical category, shooting 15 percent more efficiently than the Golden Eagles while outrebounding them 37-26 and scoring 12 more points in the paint.

This makes the 36th straight year that the Big East Tournament was held in Madison Square Garden, which makes it the longest-tendered venue for any conference basketball tournament. Historically, the Wildcats play very well in New York and in the Garden.

“I think every game here means a lot to us,” Brunson said. “It’s great tradition, great history here in this arena. This tournament has a lot of great memories. It’s always a battle whenever you’re in a game here.”

On Friday night, Villanova will take on the Seton Hall Pirates, who were victorious over the Butler Bulldogs on Thursday, in the Big East semi-finals. According to Coach Wright, improving their defensive effort will be the key for the Wildcats.

“Defense and rebounding. It’s the same thing all year for us. We’re a good offensive team but you could see we went through some spurts there where we get it going offensively and then just relax defensively. We’ve just got to be more consistent.”

Below the streets, above expectations

With instruments ranging from vocals to a decorated accordion, subway performers bring culture and life to the monotony of the everyday commute.

Dagen Julty, for instance, is Lovejoy the Clown by day and an occasional Times Square subway performer by night. His attire was welcoming, featuring a fuzzy rainbow sweater and a generally eccentric aura. Julty is full of smiles and emanates positivity and good vibes.

“I started performing when I started entertaining kids and babies in 1996,” Julty said. “I was a school music teacher and someone said, ‘try being a kid entertainer’ . . . and I gave it a try.”

Julty has been involved with music for as long as he can remember and sharing his upbeat tunes has been his way of preserving bliss within society. “Especially now with the phones, I think it’s so important that people do things in 3D,” he said.IR 2.png

Julty said that he does not currently live in the Big Apple. He traveled from upstate, about two hours away, to come perform underneath New York City.

His recent endeavor is an experiment, and only now has he started asking for money. Before, he would choose a spot in the subway and begin performing and just go for it. “Most people would ignore,” Julty said. “Some would take an interest.”

“I’ve always had bands, I’ve always had music, I’ve always been experimental . . . I was one of those people brought up in a creative home with a creative license,” he said.

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From what it seems, Julty, who is in his mid 60s, is always going to be a musical man and will not stop performing with his trusty 22-year-old accordion, donned with colorful jewels and shiny beads.

But it isn’t just solo artists below the surface, there are group performances as well. One group, ranging from ages 14 to 16, “Songs of Solomon” sings modern pop songs below Times Square in order to raise money for a convention in August.

They attend Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts and have been performing to raise money for about a month.IR 3.jpg

Generally, they have been getting good responses although there have been a few exceptions.

“There was a group of kids that came over here that started dancing, and then they like, threw their food on the ground and they kicked it towards us,” Harper said.

The students believe that there is a stigma amongst street performers that they are typically poor or homeless, but that is often not the case, so they made a sign in order to show why they were singing.

“We wrote a sign that told people like, what we were raising money for,” Barkie said. “And the same day we made the sign we raised $200 . . . People start seeing it, and then [they] start donating more money.”

Some perform for the sake of religion. One group, who often sets up in Grand Central Station, made music on behalf of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. They make music with instruments such as drums, harmoniums, and finger cymbals to produce a spiritual ambience within the station.

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Group members will approach passersby with promotional books and pamphlets, attempting to raise money for the monastery.

“This is not exactly musicians in a subway,” Mahot Sahah Das, a member of the Bhakti Center monastery, said. “It’s not a performance, it’s basically a form of worship and a form of sacrifice.”

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“It’s the mantra we chant over and over again . . . it’s a spiritual sound that doesn’t get exhausted,” he said. “[It] gives you access to the most personal form of God, so you can actually have a loving reciprocation with it.”

“Most people, they sort of have belief in God, but they don’t have any information of who God really is,” Sahah Das said. “How will you love someone if you don’t know them?”

In the New York City subways, performers generally have artistic freedom, with only a few small rules.

According to transit officer Tahir, who did not provide a first name, artists only need a permit when using loud speakers and amplifiers, and they can only do so in common areas. They can not interfere with the loud speaker announcements or perform on the trains, but acoustic performances are allowed on subway platforms.