By Michael Parente
Providence College did its part Thursday, beating St. John’s in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, and also got a little help from an unlikely source in Seton Hall University.
Shortly before the Friars and Red Storm tipped off, the 8th-seeded Pirates upended No. 1 Villanova, setting up another old-school Big East semifinal showdown Friday night in the Big Apple.
Needing a win to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the 4th-seeded Friars survived a rare off-night from Bryce Cotton and instead rode the hot hand of Josh Fortune to a 79-74 win over the 5th-seeded Red Storm, all but ending St. John’s chances of earning an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
Fortune finished with a season-high 24 points while Cotton shot just 1-for-10 and failed to hit a 3-pointer on four attempts.
Cotton delivered time and time again during the regular season despite rarely taking a breather. The 6-foot-1 Second Team All-American played all 50 minutes in each of Providence’s four double-overtime games this season.
To win without Cotton at his best in their biggest game of the season is an encouraging sign for the Friars, and now they get a third shot at Seton Hall, who they split with during the regular season (the Friars lost at home in double overtime in December and then won the rematch in New Jersey in February). The Pirates eliminated the top-seeded Wildcats on Thursday, 64-63, on Sterling Gibbs’ buzzer-beater, effectively ending Villanova’s chances of earning a coveted No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
The Friars would’ve faced a tall task Friday if they had to play Villanova in the semifinals. They lost to the Wildcats twice during the regular season, including a Feb. 18 double-overtime thriller at The Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Seton Hall stumbled to the finish line in the Big East, losing seven of its final 10 regular-season games before Thursday’s win, but has suddenly emerged as the Cinderella of this year’s conference tournament, needing to run the table to have any chance of an improbable NCAA Tournament bid.
Thursday’s win might be enough to get Providence back to the tournament for the first time in a decade, but another win Friday would all but guarantee a spot in the Field of 68. In other quarterfinal action, No. 2 seed Creighton crushed 10th-seeded DePaul, 84-62, to advance to the semifinals. Friday’s tipoff between Providence and Seton Hall is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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