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The Great Escape - Friars style

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No one ever said it would be easy, but this is getting ridiculous.

Bryce Cotton scored 25 points—20 coming after halftime, with two at the most crucial time imaginable—to lead the Providence College Friars to a 81-80 victory over Marquette in double overtime before a near-capacity crowd of 11,469 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Tuesday. It was senior day, and for Cotton, likely playing his final game before a home crowd, it was a fitting end to a remarkable career.

And what an ending it was...

After Marquette's Todd Mayo, who led all scorers with 26 points, hit two free throws with 27 seconds remaining in the second overtime, the Golden Eagles led by three, 80-77, and things did not look at all promising for the Friar faithful.

LaDontae Henton drove through the physical Marquette defense and banged in a layup, the Friars still trailed by one, 80-79, with nine seconds remaining. Providence immediately called timeout to talk over their strategy—which would likely be fouling the first Marquette player to touch the ball, hoping for the best from the foul line, then coming back to (hopefully) bang home a trey that would either be the game winner or send the game into a third overtime.

That was the master plan. But this is college basketball, after all—the home of improvisation. Rarely does anything go according to the script.

A swarming pressure defense by the Friars forced Marquette's Jake Thomas to turn the ball over. The ball ended up in the hands of Cotton (who else?) who was immediately fouled by Derrick Wilson.

So yes, the game was going to be ultimately decided at the charity stripe after all.

Cotton—an 84 percent shooter from the foul line—and calmly drained both free throws to give PC a one-point lead with seven ticks left on the clock.

Marquette was able to push the ball down-court, but Mayo missed a shot from far beyond the arc, and Carson Desrosiers as the horn sounded, and the Friars escaped with what could be their biggest win of the season.

“It comes down to mental toughness and those are things that you dream of,” said Cotton after the game. “I’ve always worked on my free throws. My grandmother always told me that free throws can win or lose you a ball game. She was right tonight!” The 6-1 guard from Roxbury, Mass., was named the Big East's Player of the Week for the third time this season last week.

The Golden Eagles had three players put up double-doubles—Mayo, who grabbed 11 boards to go along with his 26 points; Davante Gardner (15 points, 10 rebounds); and Jamil Wilson (11 points, 14 boards). Deonte Burton (10 points) also registered double digits for Marquette.

As dramatic as the ending was, the game had no business getting that far. Providence had an 11 point lead with 8:48 remaining in regulation. But Marquette went on an 8-0 run (five free throws and a trey by Mayo) go get right back into the game, trailing by three with 4:14 remaining.

A free throw by Cotton followed by two from Mayo, and the Friars lead was cut to two with 4:14 to go.

The Golden Eagles came all the way back after Mayo fed Gardner who put in a layup to knot the score at 53 all with 2:50 remaining. Tyler Harris put the Friars back up by two when he knocked down a 15-foot jumper, but Mayo drained a 23-foot three-pointer to put Marquette up 56-55, with 1:48 remaining on the clock. It was the Golden Eagles' first lead since the opening minutes of the game. Providence shot 0-for-7 from the field, 1-for-4 from the line, and handed the ball over to the Golden Eagles three times during Marquette's charge.

But the Friars were not about to fold; certainly not on Senior Day and in front of their hometown fans. Josh Fortune knocked down a three-pointer, and was fouled by Mayo. After putting in the free-throw, the Friars led 59-56 with 25 ticks left on the clock. Now, it was just a matter of playing some hard-nosed defense.

But Fortune returned Mayo's favor, fouling Marquette's top gun as he was putting up a three-point attempt with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. Mayo missed the shot, but calmly put down all three free-throws and the game was again knotted, this time at 59-59. Cotton threw up a make-able 26-foot three-point attempt, but it as time expired, but missed the mark, and the game headed into overtime.

“I think we had the game won like three different times in regulation and the first overtime,” said Friars' head coach Ed Cooley. “Then we were really fortunate to win the game in the second overtime.”

With the win, the Friars improved to 20-10 overall (10-7 in the Big East). This was the Friars' fifth overtime game of the season, and their second game that went two OTs. They are 3-3 overall in overtime games this season, and 2-0 in double OT games.

Next up will be a trip to Omaha, Neb., to take on the No. 13 Creighton (23-6 overall, 13-4 Big East). The Blue Jays are coming off a 75-63 loss to Georgetown, and are 15-0 at home, so the Friars have their work cut out for them. But a win will most surely knock Providence, currently No. 52 in the RPI rankings, off the bubble and straight into the 64-team NCAA field. The Friars' last trip to The Dance as in 2004, when they were sent packing in the first round by Pacific, 66-58.

Tip-off is at 8 p.m., and the game will be televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network.

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