March 14, 2014
By Richard Finn
Special to BIGEAST.com
NEW YORK – For Providence, it had been a story of two tournament championship appearances, one title in 1994 and that’s all at the BIG EAST Tournament.
Twenty years later the Friars are back in the championship game of the BIG EAST Tournament presented by NEW YORK LIFE after a gritty 80-74 win over a scrappy and resilient Seton Hall squad on Friday at Madison Square Garden.
“I remember when Providence College played in that game,” Cooley said of the Friars’ 74-64 title game win over Georgetown. “I think I was just graduating from school, and I was really happy for our city and for our state.
“But that was then. This is a new era. This is the new BIG EAST,” said Cooley, in his third season with the Friars. “Today we played with purpose.”
Providence (22-11) will play the Creighton-Xavier winner in Saturday’s championship game.
The Friars came into to the tournament with single minded focus to win the BIG EAST crown and secure a NCAA Tournament berth.
“Providence was here with a purpose,” said Cooley. “We had a goal and a mission. Our mission was to try to get to the NCAA tournament. It’s an accomplishment because our mission is close to being achieved.”
The players embraced the goal, said game star LaDontae Henton.
“Coach just made a point of emphasis of playing real hard, coming out with effort, and that’s what we tried to do the first two games,” said Henton.
After a double-double in the opening round game against St. John’s, Henton came back with another double-double with a season-high, team-leading 26 points and 14 rebounds.
“LaDontae was a man child today, an absolute man child today,” Cooley said of the 6-foot-6 inch junior forward. “I always think he’s one of the more underappreciated guys on our team. He’s just been a rock.”
The southpaw-shooting Henton scored from all parts of the court. He was 9-of-13 from the floor, 4-of-6 from behind the three-point arc and 4-of-8 from the foul line.
It is an iron-man starting five for Providence of Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris, Josh Fortune, Bryce Cotton and Henton. Fortune, Henton and Cotton played all 40 minutes. Harris logged 32 minutes and Batts 17. Only three bench players saw action.
“You only need five,” Cooley said of his limited substitution strategy.
Cooley is not worried that his squad will be leg-weary in coming back for its third game in as many days on Saturday.
“These kids have played like this since they came to Providence, “said Cooley. “You can’t be tired when you’re playing for a championship.
“You can be tired at the end of the season when you are on vacation.”