Live from the Big East Tournament: Providence not slowing down with title in sight

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Providence is a win away from its second ever Big East championship. A short bench shouldn't stand in their way.

Ed Cooley doesn't have a deep team, but he doesn't mind. Heck, the Providence coach even seems to like it that way.

Friday night, on the heels of the Friars' 80-74 win over Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament semifinals, he sat at the table during the postgame press conference, Providence shirt pulled over his button-down and tie, seeming just as fiery as he had been on the sideline.

He even cut me off when I asked LaDontae Henton if his playing 40-plus minutes for the last four games was wearing him down.

"I'll answer that question," Cooley said. "These kids have played like this since they came to Providence. He's averaged 37 minutes a game."

Cooley then pointed to Bryce Cotton.

"He's averaged 120 minutes a game."

Many media, including me, laughed, but Cooley's point was clear. Providence has dealt with a ton this year, including losing guard Kris Dunn to injury and several others to suspension, so the Friars have had to make do. That's meant routinely running guys like Henton and Cotton out there for 40 minutes per game.

"It's a credit to our weight training and our conditioning staff that our players are able to withstand this," Cooley said.

Against Seton Hall, only seven Friars played more than four minutes. Henton, Cotton and Josh Fortune played all 40. And this is coming after a battle with St. John's yesterday and with the Big East championship game coming up on Saturday -- the Friars' first title appearance since 1994.

Seton Hall outscored Providence 25-2 on the bench. Henton and Cotton took nearly 60 percent of the Friars' shots and accounted for more than half their scoring.

But that's not what matters. The only stat that matters to the Friars is the final score, and now, 22 times this season, that score has favored Providence.

"We have such a tight bond," Cotton said. "We knew there was something special about this team. We couldn't quite figure out what it was that was special. As the season continues for us, I think we're starting to see it."

Providence also sees its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004 on the horizon. A win on Saturday would seal it. A loss puts the Friars on the bubble with a strong resume.

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Cooley said that it has been the team's mission this year to get back to the dance, and that mission has not changed. Henton agreed, but added that for now, the primary goal is a conference championship.

"We want to win this tournament right here," Henton said. "That's one of our big goals and it's intact for tomorrow."

The game will tip off at 8:30 p.m., giving Providence less than 24 hours until it plays again.

Not that the Friars are counting. Fatigue hasn't caught up with them yet, and it doesn't seem like it's going to. Cotton averages 39.9 minutes per game, Henton came into Friday averaging 36.9. He even played 48 out of 50 in a double-overtime game against Marquette on March 4.

The Friars don't need to rotate nine or 10 guys, keeping everybody fresh to run the break all night. As Cooley reminded us after the game:

"You only need five."

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