PROVIDENCE – The rematch was far more competitive. The outcome was just as painful for the Providence Friars to swallow.
PC tried its best to throw ninth-ranked Villanova for a loop, but the Wildcats were able to hang on for an 82-79 double-overtime victory on Tuesday night before 12,106 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Ryan Arcidiacono closed out with 21 points, though none were bigger than the layup the Villanova guard converted with 3.6 seconds left in the second extra session.
With the Friars caught in a mismatch, Arcidiacono blew past Kadeem Batts for an easy score that also resulted in the fifth and final foul for the PC senior. Arcidiacono hit the free throw to put Villanova up three. It was a bit of redemption for him as he missed key shots in the closing seconds of regulation and again at the end of the first overtime.
“It was a game where whoever had the ball last was probably going to win,” stated Friars head coach Ed Cooley.
PC’s last gasp consisted of a good look by LaDontae Henton, but the game-tying bid hit the front rim as the final horn sounded. Henton managed just one field goal in 35 minutes, but it was a big one as the junior nailed a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 63-63.
Bryce Cotton finished with 22 points on 6-of-20 shooting with nine assists. The cold performance from the floor spoke volumes about how tightly Villanova played the all-world senior. Cotton did have his moments, however. His acrobatic layup tied the game at 72-72 in the first overtime. Later, he swished a three with 24.1 seconds left in the second OT that once again brought the Friars even on the scoreboard.
Batts had 21 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out. Josh Fortune had 16 points with 13 coming in the first half. He also had seven of his team’s 19 turnovers. The Friars (17-10, 7-7 Big East) have now dropped five of their last seven.
Villanova (23-3, 11-2 Big East) got 20 points from low-post threat JayVaughn Pinkston. The victory enables the Wildcats to complete a season sweep of the Friars. PC lost the first encounter by 30 points when the two longtime Big East rivals squared off in Philadelphia last month.
A great start by the Friars was all but a distant memory by the time the halftime horn sounded. Riding the hot hand of Fortune, PC hit nine of its first 13 shots to vault out to a 22-13 lead. Fortune’s imprint included two makes from beyond the arc and two jumpers.
Villanova’s unique breed of toughness – something that was in short supply during Sunday’s 100-81 wipeout at fellow conference power Creighton – started to appear around the 10-minute mark of the first half. PC missed 10 of its final 13 first-half attempts while Arcidiacono got on a roll, sandwiching two treys between two free throws.
All of the sophomore’s makes came in the final two minutes as the Friars and Wildcats went into recess all even at 33-33. Cotton had just four points on 1-of-6 shooting, though he had five assists.
The Wildcats’ vice grip on the Friars only intensified. Six minutes went by in the second half and PC had more turnovers (seven) than shot attempts (five). The seventh turnover came when Cotton dribbled the ball off his foot at midcourt in the face of heavy Wildcat pressure.
Despite all the shortcomings, the Friars were right there with a Wildcat team that Cooley feels is a legit contender to cut down the nets in Houston, the site of this year’s Final Four.
PC trailed 44-42 after Fortune swished his fourth 3-pointer. A 3-point play by Tyler Harris once again brought PC to Villanova’s doorstep, 59-56, with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. The Wildcats seemed to be in fine shape after Arcidiacono made two free throws to make it 63-58 with 1:08 left, but PC got the necessary five points to push the game into overtime.
Cooley made sure to point out that the season is far from over following the tough loss. The Friars have four games left in the regular season, with the next opportunity coming Sunday at Butler.
“We still have four more games to realize our dreams,” said the coach.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03