Providence could never do enough against Villanova

Providence could never do enough against Villanova

They play with no fear, so heaven wasn’t a playground to the Providence College Friars, it was a Big East Tournament championship game at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

“I want you to play with joy,” Ed Cooley told his team in the locker room moments before tipoff.

But here’s the thing: You can play with all the joy in the world, but you more often than not need a helluva lot more than joy to beat Villanova. A machine two years removed from a national championship that looks primed to suck the joy out of anyone in its path when The Dance begins.

So Providence showed up with a daring genius coach, its unyielding belief and the heart of a giant lion.

And had its dream shattered anyway.

By National Player of the Year Favorite Jalen Brunson (31 points) and NBA lottery pick Mikal Bridges (25 points).

Villanova’s Killer Bs.

For most of the night, Brunson had carried Villanova on his back. Until Cooley switched a 6-foot-4 sophomore reserve named Drew Edwards on him late in the second half.

Enter Bridges.

Who drilled a pair of NBA 3s in overtime. One a catch-and-shoot after a Brunson fumble.

Jalen Brunson celebrates after a Mikal Bridges (right) 3-pointer.Paul J. Bereswill

Before Brunson hit a short right-wing jumper just before the shot clock expired with 1:17 remaining in the Friars’ third straight overtime.

These were two heavyweights going toe-to-toe in the center of the ring between Seventh and Eighth avenues, and it was Villanova 76, Providence 66 when it ended.

“It was old-school Big East, man,” Jay Wright said.

And Phil Booth was lip-synching Sinatra when they played “New York, New York” as the Villanova players cut down the Garden nets for the second straight year.

And Bridges lay down to pose for a photo on the court with mascot Will D. Cat and the cheerleaders, before hugging a woman named Kim Barben, his old 10th-grade European history teacher, who had come rushing down from her seat to the edge of the court to tell him: “I’m so proud of you!”

Brunson on Bridges: “He’s great to play with. I have so much confidence in him. Everyone has confidence in him. He has the ability to make big shots. I’m just really glad that we’ve had this opportunity together.”

Bridges on Brunson: “He can do everything. He can come off ball screens, he can iso, he can list up, pass, he can do everything, so that’s what makes him so special.”

Every time Villanova staggered the Friars, the Friars got back up and staggered Villanova.

Brunson, doing as he pleased, forever wearing his iceman game face, scored 21 of his team’s first 39 points.

“[Xavier coach] Chris Mack had the greatest line,” Wright said. “He said if you pulled down the skin in his face, there’d be wires behind it.”

But the Friars are one tough out. Ask Xavier. No lead is safe against them.

A 12- point lead began to disappear.

Cooley, wearing a white towel around his waist after ripping his pants, got immediate results from the 6-4 Edwards on Brunson.

“He made things tough,” Brunson said. “I just forced it a little bit, forced the issue.”

Brunson got stuck on 25 points, needed some help. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 2:11 left in regulation.

“Everybody on our team knows that’s not affecting him,” Wright said.

Cartwright tied it with a fallaway jumper near the left corner with the shot clock expiring. Brunson sank a pair of free throws with 30.1 seconds to retie it. Cartwright missed a jumper with three ticks left in regulation.

Overtime. Not Providence’s time this time.

“We have the best conference in the NCAA,” Bridges said.

And maybe the best team. WILLanova, carried by the Killer Bs.

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