by Ryan Irwin
After mounting a furious comeback in the waning moments of Villanova’s matchup against Providence, junior guard Bryce Cotton hit a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to give the Friars a 55-52 lead, and, ultimately, the game.
The comeback started with a layup by junior guard James Bell off of a pass from redshirt sophomore forward Jayvaughn Pinkston.
Bell concluded the comeback with a stolen inbound pass after connecting on a pair of free throws. After he stole the ball, he was fouled trying to finish an exclamation-point dunk.
Villanova could have had a chance to win after Providence missed a shot with 10 seconds left in the game, but the Friars’ recovered the long rebound and Cotton shot a dagger through the heart of the scrappy Wildcats and their beloved student section.
“We were fortunate to get the last play,” head coach Ed Cooley said.
The game looked to be comfortably in the Friars hands after Cotton made a layup with 4:34 left in the second half. Providence’s last score would be Cotton’s game winner.
Cotton finished with a game high 18 points.
Providence sizzled from beyond the arc, making 10 3-pointers on 15 attempts, a 67 percent clip.
Cotton and freshman guard Josh Fortune connected on nine of those triples, with Fortune hitting all five that he took. Four of those threes came in the first half to lead Fortune to pace all scorers with 12 points in the first half.
“I credit our guys with our effort today,” Cooley said. “We finally showed some aggression to defend. We knew Villanova was playing extremely well, so this is a really big win for us.”
While sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard didn’t exactly have the type of game that led to him being recognized as the country’s best player last week, he still finished with 17 points. Hilliard went three for 13 from the field but hit all 10 of his free throws.
Villanova started the second half on an 11-2 run in front of a student section that didn’t have much to cheer about in the first half.
A lob to Bell on an inbounds pass finished with an alley-oop slam-dunk that gave ’Nova its first lead since the five-minute mark of the first half.
In the first half, Villanova seemed to revert back to the same team that lost to Columbia and this very same Providence team two weeks ago.
After holding leads of eight and 10 in the first 10 minutes, Villanova began to sputter, allowing the Friars to go on an 11-0 run over the span of three minutes.
Hilliard stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws, but Providence would build a six-point lead by the half.
’Nova started off the day committed to feeding the interior, dishing out nifty passes to senior center Mouphtaou Yarou for the team’s first four points.
Yarou finished the game with a double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Providence couldn’t buy a bucket early, going one for seven to start the game, but ended the half shooting 38.5 percent from the field, including six threes on eight attempts.
After starting out three of six from the floor, Villanova only shot four for 20 from the field, finishing the half with a subpar 26.9 percent from the floor. They would finish the game shooting 27.5 percent from the floor.
Providence standout Cotton hit his first three of the game at the 12:04 mark, finishing the half with eight points.
Freshman forward Daniel Ochefu continues to be a force for the ’Cats, scooping up 12 rebounds, six of them on offense.
“I don’t want these guys getting frustrated, I don’t,” Jay Wright said. “We’re telling them ‘Don’t be disappointed, keep grinding.’”
Villanova did a much better job on the glass, outrebounding the Friars 38-33, collecting 16 offensive rebounds to Providence’s nine.
In the last meeting between these two teams, Villanova turned the ball over 25 times. On Sunday, they gave the ball up 18 times, while forcing 21 Providence turnovers.
Villanova was dreadful beyond the arc, making only two threes while attempting 15.
Pinkston scored nine points but turned the ball over five times and didn’t play in the first ten minutes of the second half due to a coaching decision.
Bell finished with seven points on two of five shooting and three points.
NOTES: Normally contests held during half time don’t warrant media attention, but during the intermission, a couple came out for a half court shot for a “secret” prize. It turns out that the prize was a ring, as the groom-to-be got on one knee and proposed. She quickly said yes, and the actual half court contestant promptly missed his shot, albeit narrowly.