Providence upsets Xavier in Big East semis; Musketeers' No. 1 seed is in danger

NEW YORK -- Memorable Big East tournament games are as reliable annually as the sunrise is daily. 

Friday night's opening semifinal at Madison Square Garden provided another Manhattan classic, as No. 5 Providence rallied from a 17-point deficit to force overtime against top-seeded Xavier. With an overload of Friar fans at full-throat, PC pulled off a 75-72 upset to reach the third Big East championship game in program history. 

"What a game, what an atmosphere, what a league," Friars coach Ed Cooley said afterward. "I've got the goosebumps still from the energy in this building."  

It's a familiar feeling. Cooley, who coached Providence to a Big East title four years ago, has led his team to a 4-0 record at MSG this season.

Providence got out with the win after Xavier's Quentin Goodin passed on an open 3-point shot, instead making a move to the hoop before passing to Kerem Kanter. The horn blew before Kanter's shot was released. It went through the hoop. 

"You only have so many last-second plays drawn up," Musketeers coach Chris Mack said. "And with no timeouts it was certainly difficult to draw anything up that you feel comfortable with. So that's, again, one play of many that didn't go our way, and I don't think it was a reason that we lost."

Xavier gave it away, as is usually the case when 17 points worth of cushion are squandered. 

"It feels like it's a game that shoulda, coulda, woulda," Mack said. "It's disappointing, because I feel like we had the game, and you know, we've been so awfully good in close games, but tonight we just left a few plays out there that had we made we'd be sitting here getting ready for the winner of Butler-Villanova.

The Musketeers' loss is not without at least a little controversy. Xavier's J.P. Macura had a chance to give the Musketeers the lead in the closing seconds of overtime -- but Kyron Cartwright drew a charge on Macura. 

The Garden burst with emotion -- and Mack exploded with dissent. 

"Officials did a really good job," Mack said. "So I don't have any angst against those guys. Tough call for them to make but probably the right call."

Macura was also involved in the critical final play of regulation, when his layup attempt was swatted by Rodney Bullock

Cooley told me afterward that, for the first time this season, he laid into his guys in the locker room. Heavily. Basically challenged their competitive spirit and asked if they had any pride or urgency left -- and expressed frustration at their lack of effort and attention while playing for a chance to make it to the Big East title game. 

Cooley waited 32 games to bring out his bad side. It worked. But he still knew his team was fortunate to get the game to overtime. Cooley clapped his hands in disappointment smiled to himself with approximatley 95 seconds left in regulation, his team down 66-64, after Cartwright missed a 3. 

"Wide open," Cooley said to himself. He looked then and there like Providence best chance to take the lead came and went. In fact, PC didn't take its first lead of the game until overtime, at 71-70. Providence's back-to-back overtime games is the first time since 2009 the Big East tournament has seen a team play bonus basketball in consecutive games. Then it was Syracuse, now it's Providence. Both teams won both games. 

This was only the fifth loss of the season for the Musketeers, who have been one of the toughest teams this season to beat in close games. Providence will play in its third Big East title game in program history on Saturday night against the winner of Villanova-Butler. The Friars' 14-point comeback at halftime is the third-largest in Big East tournament history. (The record is 16.)

For Xavier, the loss means its case for a No. 1 seed is up for debate. It was on the No. 1 line, according to our Jerry Palm, heading into Friday. Now it waits to see how Villanova, Duke and Kansas wrap up their conference championship brackets. Those are the teams vying for the top line. Xavier has never earned a No. 1 seed.

Providence cemented its spot in the field with its win Thursday over Creighton. This victory very well could bump the Friars up a seed line. For Xavier, it's a matter of where and what number. It's been one of the best teams in the country all season, and in fact Friday was an aberration: it was the first loss this season for Xavier in a game decided by eight points or less. 

The Big Ten had a great tournament in this building last week. Beyond expectations. But the crowd and the buzz -- that local feeling of frenzy and anxiety -- fully resurfaced again Friday night. The Garden provided another tremendous Big East thriller. 

Maybe Saturday's final will top it. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his eighth season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics,... Full Bio

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