- Associated Press - Friday, February 28, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Bryce Cotton is not only trying to get Providence back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004, the senior guard is enhancing his player of the year credentials with each game.

Cotton took two more steps in the right direction Friday night, scoring 17 of his 24 points in the second half to lead the Friars to a 74-69 victory over cold-shooting and undermanned Seton Hall.

The win was the third in four games for the Friars (19-10, 9-7) and allowed them to match their victory total from last season.

“Anything that this team has gotten has never been given to us,” Cotton said of the Friars’ NCAA tournament hopes. “We know anything we get, we have to work for. This is no different. We are right there, right at the cusp. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to keep climbing to get there.”

Cotton is certainly the Friars’ leader. He has scored in double figures in all but two games and is trying to become the only the fifth player from a major conference to average 20 or more points and five or more rebounds in a season since 2002. His averages were 21.6 points and 5.8 assists after the game.

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said while Doug McDermott of Creighton seems to be the favorite for player every year, Cotton is hard to overlook.

“McDermott is probably 1 and Bryce is 1A,” Willard said. “He’s not too far behind. I have been so impressed with what that young man has done not only for himself but what he has done for Providence. He has singled-handedly over the last two years carried that program. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he has done and how good a player he is. If you vote for player of the year, if you don’t at least mention him, you don’t understand what he does for that university and that program.”

Providence coach Ed Cooley also felt McDermott might be the player of the year, but he could not say enough about Cotton.

“The most valuable player in college basketball is definitely Bryce Cotton,” Cooley said. “How is he not a player of the year candidate? How can you argue it based on what he has done and how far he has brought our program. I feel blessed to coach him. He is playing as well as anyone in America.”

Cotton also had more help than Seton Hall could muster.

Kadeem Batts added 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Friars avenged an overtime loss to the Pirates earlier this season. LaDontae Henton had 13 points and Tyler Harris had all 11 of his in the final 20 minutes for Providence.

Sterling Gibbs had 20 points to lead Seton Hall (14-15, 5-11), which played without leading scorer Fuguan Edwin (sprained thumb). Eugene Teague added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Pirates, who have lost three in a row and 6 of 7.

“We have some good players but we need everybody,” Willard said. “When we have everyone playing well we are a good basketball team. When we are missing key parts, we are just not good enough.”

Providence, whose only recent loss was in overtime to No. 8 Villanova, took the lead for good when Cotton drove the length of the court with a turnover and dunked for a 28-26 halftime lead.

Harris, who took only three shots in the first half, got the Friars going in the final 20 minutes. He hit a layup to open the half and capped an early 9-5 run with a three-point play and a fast-break dunk for a 37-31 lead.

The Pirates made only one threatening run the rest of the game, scoring six straight points to get to within 45-43 on a 3-pointer by Brian Oliver with 11:44 to go.

Cotton, who came into the game averaging 21.5 points, then hit a layup and four free throws, and Harris added two more baskets in a 10-1 spurt that pushed the advantage to 11 points.

Edwin, who was averaging 22 points in his last four games, was hurt in the Pirates’ loss to DePaul on Tuesday night. Willard is not sure whether he will be ready to play Monday against Xavier.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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