PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Some may have thought Providence was out of contention for making the NCAA tournament this season, but Bryce Cotton and his Friars teammates aren’t listening.
Cotton scored 25 points to help PC to a critical 81-80 double-overtime victory against Marquette on Tuesday night. A senior who was playing in his final home game, Cotton hit two free throws with 7.2 seconds remaining in the second overtime to put the Friars up for what they hoped would be for the final time.
That proved to be the case as Marquette’s Todd Mayo missed a potential game-winning shot as the horn sounded. Mayo led the Golden Eagles with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Cotton played all 50 minutes for the fourth time this season. He did more than just score as one the leading contenders for Big East Player of the Year handed out nine assists and pulled down seven rebounds.
“He was unbelievable,” said PC head coach Ed Cooley.
Cotton’s clinching free throws would not have been possible had he and teammate LaDontae Henton not forced a jump ball. With specific instructions from PC head coach Ed Cooley to foul, the Friars swarmed to the Golden Eagles’ Jake Thomas, who quickly went to the floor.
The officials signaled it was a jump ball with the possession arrow belonging to PC. Another fortunate break occurred when Marquette’s Derrick Wilson fouled Cotton as the Friars attempted to inbound the ball.
“Coach drew up a great defensive plan. He told us to get a trap,” said Cotton. “It comes down to mental toughness.”
“In games like this, the little things mean something,” said Cooley. “We made a lot of mistakes in regulation and overtime, but we were really fortunate to win.”
Cooley didn’t talk about his NCAA Tournament prospects after his team achieved its 20th victory, the first time such a feat has been achieved since 2004. He knows that another major test lies ahead Saturday night when PC visits nationally ranked Creighton followed by next week’s Big East Tournament.
At 20-10 overall and 10-7 in the Big East, the Friars appear in strong position to nail down an at-large berth. Marquette falls to 17-13 and 9-8 in conference play. The Friars and Golden Eagles came into play tied for fourth place.
Tuesday’s victory by PC was the program’s first over Marquette since Jan. 2007.
Henton had 20 points and 16 rebounds for the Friars while Josh Fortune added 15 points. Kadeem Batts had 12 points before fouling out in the first overtime.
Davante Gardner dominated inside with 15 points and 10 rebounds for Marquette while Jamil Wilson had 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The Golden Eagles, who had won 11 of the previous 12 meetings against the Friars, came back from an 11-point deficit in the second half to force overtime. PC could have won the game in regulation after Fortune’s three-pointer-plus-free throw with 25 seconds left to erase a 56-55 Marquette lead.
Fortune then fouled Mayo behind the three-point arc. The reserve guard for Marquette hit all three free throws with 19 seconds left to tie the game at 59-59.
PC wisely put the ball in Cotton’s hands but he missed a contested jumper. Marquette’s Davante Gardner gathered and fired an 85-foot bomb that was on the money. The shot was originally ruled good but quickly over-turned after the officials had a chance to review it.
“I saw it go in, but I was trying to keep our guys from acting like clowns,” said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams. “(The officials) said it wasn’t close.”
Marquette held a 71-70 lead when Providence’s Carson Desrosiers was fouled with 12 seconds left in the first overtime. He made 1-of-2 at the line to send the game into a second overtime.
“I was just praying the whole time,” said Batts when asked what was racing through his mind as he watching Desrosiers from the bench.
The Golden Eagles appeared in good shape after two free throw by Mayo made it 80-77, but PC got a quick hoop by Henton followed by some fortunate bounces.
The Friars have now played in six overtime games this season with four of those contests ending in double overtime. The Golden Eagles have played in five overtime games.
Marquette lost despite outrebounding PC, 54-39, and outscoring the Friars in the paint, 32-14.
Davante Gardner finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for Marquette while Jamil Wilson had 11 points and 14 rebounds.
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