Big East tournament: Providence beats Creighton for win it needed to secure NCAA bid
The Friars got it to overtime -- and should be dancing for the fifth straight season
NEW YORK -- Ed Cooley has Providence on the precipice of program history.
The fifth-seeded Friars did what they needed to do to enhance their standing with the NCAA Tournament selection committee by coming back to beat No. 4 Creighton in Thursday afternoon's Big East tournament quarterfinal. Providence won, 72-68, in overtime. It will play Xavier in Friday's semifinal at 6:30 p.m. ET.
This should be the clincher for Providence, which entered the day on decent ground but needed a win to secure its spot in the field of 68. Our Jerry Palm had Providence as an 11 seed -- very much on the bubble -- heading into the game with Creighton. With a win like this, Friars fans can feel comfortable about having their team's name on the screen during Sunday's selection show.
The win bumped PC from No. 42 to No. 35 in the RPI. The results-based metrics are kinder to Providence's profile than the advanced sites such as KenPom.com and the Sagarin ratings.
Cooley knows how much Thursday meant. He didn't say too much at his press conference, but on the walk back to the locker room afterward, he gave it up.
"We needed that win bad," Cooley said. "If we lose, I don't know if we don't get in. I think we're right there. We don't, because of other [teams]. But a thousand percent we're in now. I mean, a thousand percent."
Providence also looks the part. It's not a top-tier team, but it's certainly among the best 36 at-large teams available for dibs. Cooley coaching Providence to the NCAA Tournament would make for the fifth straight season he's done so. It's a school record and a testament to how great a hire he was. Cooley grew up in Providence and was plucked from Fairfield University in 2011. He's won at least 20 games five seasons strong.
The Friars finished off the Jays, in part, because of a gorgeous spin-and-fallaway move by Kyron Cartwright to make it 70-66 with 15 seconds remaining in OT.
"I was 100 percent going small today," Cooley said.
PC needed to play small in order to offset Creighton's speed and shooting. It was the latest close battle between the two teams.
"I got so much respect for that guy, it's unbelievable," Cooley said of Creighton coach Greg McDermott. "I think he's one of the best coaches in the country. We have some battles -- I mean battles -- in here and we were fortunate to advance. That's what it's about. I'm excited to play Xavier."
Cooley opted to bring all five of his seniors to the postgame press conference, an uncommon thing at a league tournament but also symbolic of what this run means to him personally and the program overall. He did it because he believes Providence is securely in the field, and that means Cartwright, Rodney Bullock, Jalen Lindsey and Tom Planek are the first graduating class in school history to make four straight NCAA Tournaments.
Having those vets on Thursday pushed Providence over the top in overtime. Lindsey, Bullock and Cartwright combined for 37 points. Did the team feel the urgency, the pressure to win? Absolutely.
"A lot of pressure," Cooley said. "Because what's happening with a lot of the teams that are right there, teetering with whether being a tournament team or not, everybody's fighting. I thought if we could come in and play competitive we'd give ourselves a chance. We played competitive enough to win. I think we're right where we want to be, and we're just excited about playing Xavier tomorrow. But we'll pause for a second because I think we'll pause for a second. There was a lot of pressure on this game. We'll pause and appreciate the moment."
The Friars can sleep easy -- but also eagerly. An opportunity against Xavier means a chance to jump a seed line. Providence gave X one of its four losses this season.
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