Providence advanced the same way it stunned its way to a No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament: just barely surviving, seemingly never running out of nails to bite.
The Friars rarely dominate opponents, but they also rarely lose to them.
A game that was tied at the half and that Providence trailed by six with nine minutes left became a thrilling 65–61 victory over No. 9 Butler in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at the Garden on Thursday afternoon. Providence (25-4) will meet the winner of Creighton-Marquette, whose game was on deck, in the semifinals Friday at 6:30 ET.
In front of an announced sell-out of 19,812 – largely Providence fans – in Midtown, Providence stole a game with some clutch work late. Down one in the final minute, guard Aljami Durham got freed up behind the arc and connected to give the Friars a 61-59 lead. On the ensuing possession, Butler’s Simas Lukosius thought he had a layup to tie the game, but Justin Minaya, the son of former Mets general manager Omar, swatted it away. After Bo Hodges missed a contested shot underneath, Providence made its free throws down the stretch to hold off the Bulldogs.
Providence won the Big East regular-season title – for the first time in program history – without a single member on the All-Big East First Team. Tellingly, the Friars’ hardware included the top sixth man (Jared Bynum) and the conference’s coach of the year (Ed Cooley) as they relied upon a well-coached and disciplined group to weather any obstacles.
No one on Providence averaged even 14 points per game during the regular season, though 6-foot-10 center Nate Watson was the biggest player, physically and metaphorically, on the afternoon. Watson finished with 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting, including five big points in the final five minutes, which were jump-started by his coach.
Providence had trailed by six with nine minutes to go, but panic never set in. The Friars erased the deficit, largely through Watson’s work inside. After Butler’s Bryce Golden missed a contested layup, and time was called, Cooley walked onto the court and threw a couple fist-pumps to the crowd.