Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Xavier beats Providence for share of first Big East title
By JOE KAYCINCINNATI (AP) — Trevon Bluiett grabbed the scissors in his right hand, climbed the stepladder and started hacking at the net, grimacing as the threads refused to cut.
Finally, he had everything well in hand , just as he had so many times during his four-year career and Xavier’s breakthrough season.
The senior guard scored 23 points in his final game at the Cintas Center, and No. 3 Xavier never trailed while beating Providence 84-74 on Wednesday night to clinch at least a share of its first Big East championship.
The Musketeers (26-4, 14-3) can win it outright by beating DePaul on Saturday and end Villanova’s run of four straight regular season titles.
“It just shows that despite maybe from game to game we’re not at our absolute best, but we are the most consistent team,” coach Chris Mack said.
Bluiett will leave Xavier as its second all-time scorer. He made the game’s first basket on a driving layup, and finished off the Friars with a dunk and a pair of free throws in the final minute.
“We came out aggressively, especially Tre,” senior forward Sean O’Mara said.
The Musketeers sensed the enormity of the game at the outset, missing eight of their first 10 shots from beyond the arc, many of them uncontested. But they made the plays in the big moments, one of their traits as they’ve won a lot of close games and, now, a title.
“Being that it was one of our goals at the beginning of the season and now actually achieving our goal, it’s kind of unreal,” said Quentin Goodin, who added 18 points, one shy of his career high.
The league title was another major step in a record-setting season for Xavier. The Musketeers moved up to No. 3 for the first time this week. Their latest win matched the school record for victories in the regular season. And they got the best of one of only three teams to beat them this season.
Providence (18-12, 9-8) won 81-77 on Jan. 6 but couldn’t pull off the sweep after getting off to a slow start and getting into foul trouble. Top scorer Rodney Bullock fouled out with 4:42 left after managing only six points. Maliek White led with 15 points.
Xavier opened with a 21-8 run, but wasted chances to build on the fast start. Providence made 12 of its last 14 shots in the half, cutting the deficit to 40-37. Xavier found its touch to start the second half and made eight of its first 10, rebuilding the lead to 12 points. Providence never got closer than six the rest of the way.
The Friars had 17 turnovers that set up 22 of Xavier’s points.
“Those guys are playing for a No. 1 overall seed and a conference championship,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “You don’t have to play perfect, but you have to play well enough to have a chance to beat them.”
BIG PICTUREProvidence: The Friars have a pair of wins over Top 5 teams this season for only the second time in their history, but couldn’t get a third. The Musketeers were No. 5 when they beat them in January. They also knocked off No. 3 Villanova 76-71 at Providence on Feb. 14. The Friars are 2-4 against ranked teams this season.
“I’d be excited to play them again, if we’re fortunate enough,” Cooley said.
Xavier: The Musketeers’ last conference title was 2011 in the Atlantic 10, where it won or shared nine regular season titles. When the buzzer sounded, the team gathered around a championship trophy at midcourt as confetti and streamers were shot off from the rafters. They then cut down the net in front of their bench.
Xavier coach Chris Mack took a selfie with the fan-filled court behind him before cutting down the rest of the net.
Xavier honored seniors Bluiett, J.P. Macura, O’Mara, Kerem Kanter and Matt Singleton pregame.
Providence’s Alpha Diallo got a foul for shoving Macura to the ground. They both got technicals when Macura got up and got in Diallo’s face and they exchanged words.
Providence’s Kyron Cartwright picked up his third and fourth fouls 18 seconds apart with 15:22 left. Bullock got his fourth with 12:40 left, limiting two of the Friars’ top threats.
UP NEXTProvidence: Friars host St. John’s on Saturday. They opened Big East play by beating the Red Storm 94-72 on Dec. 28. The Friars will honor seniors Cartwright, Bullock, Jalen Lindsey and Tom Planek.
Xavier: Musketeers play at DePaul on Saturday. They beat the Blue Demons 77-72 at the Cintas Center on Dec. 30, Xavier’s seventh straight win in the series.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.