RALEIGH, N.C. – The final-seconds drama capped off an exciting day of opening-round play in the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Just before the stroke of midnight, Rodney Bullock’s layup was the winner that finalized a 70-69 win for the ninth-seeded Providence Friars over the eighth-seeded USC Trojans.
In a game that featured 13 lead changes and four ties, it was the Friars who scored 11 second-chance points even while being outrebound by the Trojans by a 35-31 margin.
Bullock’s double-double finish (16 points, 10 rebounds) was part of a Friars offensive push led by Ben Bentil’s game-high 19 points that went along with nine rebounds.
Kris Dunn’s performance in dropping 16 points in 27 minutes and dishing out four assists was critical to the Friars staying close with an equally talented USC squad.
Jordan McLaughlin led the Trojans’ charge with 15 points along with three others who outworked and outscored Providence in the paint by 12 points.
Though USC led 36-35 at halftime, the Friars continued to stay close and in the final minute of play managed to take advantage of the Trojan’s missed opportunities to ice the game from the free throw line.
Trailing 68-63 with 2:40 to play, it was Bentil and Dunn who pulled Providence even a minute later with a jumper and a three, respectively.
For Bullock, a foul he committed on Bennie Boatwright that led to a 69-68 USC lead with 58 seconds remaining could have been the beginning of the end.
However, on two separate occasions while both teams traded missed shots and battles for possession, the Trojans missed critical free throws that allowed the Friars to score closer to the basket than putting up the prototypical perimeter game-tying or winning shot.
A short jumper from Dunn might have ended it, but it came short and in a scramble for the ball which deflected out-of-bounds, Providence got possession back with five seconds remaining.
From there, it was Bullock’s ability to separate from his defender underneath that allowed Drew Edwards to inbound the ball to him for the easy lay-in to win the game.
“I still can’t believe we won the game,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said.
“I don’t think we played well. We did get frustrated. We were in foul trouble. At the same time I thought the guys were resilient. They played with some poise in our last game against Villanova in the semifinal of the Big East championship. I didn’t think we had composure. Today I thought we grew up and had great team composure and executed down the stretch when we needed to.”
The Friars next prepare to face the East Region top-seed North Carolina, 83-67 winners over FGCU.
Providence 70, USC 69
Providence: Ben Bentil, 19 pts. (7-21, 4-6 FT); Kris Dunn, 16 pts. (5-13, 4-5 3 pts.), 4 asst.; Rodney Bullock, 16 pts. (6-11, 2-4 3 pts.); Kyron Cartwright, 10 pts. (3-5, 3-4 FT)
USC: Jordan McLaughlin, 15 pts. (7-12); Nikola Jovanovic, 14 pts. (5-9, 4-6 FT); Bennie Boatwright, 11 pts. (4-8, 2-3 3 pts.); Elijah Stewart, 10 pts. (4-7, 2-4 3 pts.)
What they said
USC head coach Andy Enfield: “It was a hard-fought college basketball game. Give Providence credit. They competed just like our team and they made the last shot.
“It was a game of runs. We had the lead down the stretch. I thought we played excellent defense. In the second half, we rebounded the ball and we did everything we needed to do to win the game. We had a couple crucial turnovers. Last couple minutes we took a five-point lead with 2:10 left and immediately threw the ball away, and next possession we turned the ball over again. It’s hard to do that. And we still had a chance to win, and missed two front ends of a one-and-one…I’m not going to say anything negative about our team because they had such a great year. They played their hearts out. We just missed a couple shots and had a couple crucial turnovers down the stretch.”
USC’s Nikola Jovanovic (on his feelings postgame): “Honestly feels really hard and tough and kind of disappointing because we were up five points like 30 seconds, 45 seconds until the end of the game. We had some turnovers and we didn’t make some free throws that we usually do, and we weren’t able to close out the game, so we basically lost a won game. It’s really hard.
It’s definitely a big-time learning experience. We just need to get back in the gym and learn from it. I think we’re going to be better and stronger next time.”
Providence head coach Ed Cooley: “Great finish. March Madness at its best. Very, very happy for our players – hard-fought game – came right down to the wire. Missed shots, missed free throws, but in the end, we prevailed and that’s what this month is about – just advance however you can. And I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys here, to fight through foul trouble, Kris being in foul trouble and then turning it on in the end – Rodney making a timely play. I’m very happy for Providence College.”
Providence’s Rodney Bullock (on getting open for the winning basket): “Kris and Ben took a lot of the attention away. I guess Drew saw me and made a great play and I just finished it.
I was supposed to curl off Kris. I guess both defenders went with Kris. And when I slipped off it, I was wide open under the basket. I feel like I was open and a lot of stuff was going on next to me, so I just called for the ball.”
No. 9 Providence College (24-10) vs. No. 1 UNC (29-6) – Sat., 9:40 p.m.