Games like the one Tuesday night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center are what remind fans like us why we love sports. Non-sports fans look at us funny. They'll roll their eyes when they see us scream at the TV. They'll look up from their smartphones long enough to shake their heads at us when they see us jump out of our chairs with arms outstretched to the sky.
Games like the one Tuesday night don't come around too often nowadays. In this day and age of the "me, me, me" generation, you don't see athletes sell out for the good of the team. Nowadays, athletes, even collegiate, have their eyes on their next, or first, contract.
But Tuesday night was different. It was a throwback. It was also a throwdown. The game between the Providence College Friars and Marquette Golden Eagles was more a boxing match than a basketball game. Each team took turns throwing roundhouse rights at its opponent. Each team was left for dead more than a hadful of times.
Both teams came into the game fighting for their tournament lives. Providence has been living on the NCAA Tournament bubble all season long. Marquette's hopes were a bit dimmer, but still existent.
It's been ten years since the Friars were in the NCAA Tournament. In a season which started with such hope, the Friars have battled with, basically, five players the whole season. After Tuesday's double overtime game, senior Bryce Cotton is now averaging 40.2 minutes per game. Just a reminder-- there are only 40 minutes in a regulation college basketball game.
The Friars have played a Big East record four double overtime games this season. They have played another two single overtime games. They have done this, like mentioned in the previous paragraph, with no bench.
It is a testament to the players' heart, conditioning, and desire. It would have been very easy for them to fold after phenom sophomore point guard Kris Dunn was lost for the season early on. It would have been nice to have had freshman Brandon Austin showing off his athletic ability on the court, but instead off the court problems crushed those hopes.
But the Friars have persevered to win 20 games this season for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Is there any doubt that head coach Ed Cooley deserves Big East Coach of the Year honors? He has kept the team motivated and not allowed them to quit. His energy, optimism, and enthusiasm are contagious. Cooley has not only inspired his players, but he has reinvigorated a fan base and a city. Providence was alive Tuesday night. The Dunk was rocking. The cobwebs of the last twenty years have slowly been eradicated from the once hallowed building. The Dunk is alive again.
Tuesday night's game was the best athletic event I've witnessed in months. In what has been a prolonged, soul-crushing winter here in New England, that game was the heart-warming tonic many needed.
You may be thinking I am laying it on thick with the hyperbole, but I don't. This is what sports are all about. Heck, the game's highlights even led off ESPN Sportscenter Tuesday night. How about that? No LeBron James. A Providence College Friars' regular season basketball game leading off SportsCenter. Has that ever happened?
The game featured everything. There were, not one, but two improbable four-point plays in the closing minutes by Josh Fortune. Some athletic scoring by 6-foot-1 Cotton down among the trees under the hoop. Bodies flying for loose balls. Kadeem Batts, looking like an NBA prospect, hitting turnarounds and 19-foot jumpers. Marquette coming up with key three-pointers. Todd Mayo, brother of NBA player O.J. Mayo, hit three must-have free throws at the end of regulation to tie up the game.
Oh yeah, and then there was big man Davante Gardner almost winning the game for Marquette with a three-quarter court heave which caught nothing but net. Marquette's players and coaches stormed the court to celebrate but replay showed the ball left Gardner's hands milliseconds after time expired. That's what kind of game it was.
In double overtime, the Friars looked cooked. Two of their best scorers, Batts and Fortune, fouled out. The Friars were down three with 17 seconds left. Cooley chose to bypass the three point shot and instead have LaDontae Henton drive to the basket, which he did and scored to cut the lead to one. With the Friars needing to foul on the ensuing inbound play, Bryce Cotton, instead, tied up Marquette's Jake Thomas who was expecting a slap foul. The possession arrow favored the Friars. When the Friars inbounded the ball, Cotton was fouled. He would hit both free throws to give Providence the lead. Todd Mayo's last second jumper from just beyond the free throw line would come up short, and the Friars had their hard-earned victory. In so doing, they should have also earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
It is hard to imagine there being any team in college basketball any more exciting than the Providence College Friars. Hopefully, the NCAA Selection Committee takes this into consideration. Providence may not make it far in the tournament, but they'll be exciting to watch.
Now, excuse me while I go back to watching my recording on DVR of the end of the PC-Marquette game for the umpteenth time.