PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Providence, one of the hottest teams in the Big East, won its fifth straight conference game for the first time in a decade on Saturday, defeating Xavier 81-72.
The Friars and Musketeers are each 5-2 in league play and 15-5 overall.
Bryce Cotton led the Friars with 25 points and seven assists. It was the 12th time this season that the senior had 20 or more points. With several members of the national media in the postgame press conference, Providence coach Ed Cooley took the occasion to praise Cotton, the Big East’s second leading scorer and assists leader.
“If you tell me there’s a guy in the country who’s played better than him in the last month, I want to know who that person is,” said Cooley. “Bryce is so undervalued by the national media, but he’s not undervalued in this room.”
LaDontae Henton enjoyed one of his better games of the season with 23 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2:13 remaining. Kadeem Batts and Tyler Harris added 12 apiece.
Justin Martin paced Xavier with 19 points with leading scorer Semaj Christon coming up with 18 points, 16 coming in the second half. A sophomore, Christon’s slow start may have been due to cramping issues. He missed all of his field goal attempts in the first half. Matt Stainbrook had 11 points and nine rebounds.
What had Musketeers head coach Chris Mack distraught as he glanced at the stat sheet was the number of points his team allowed to a PC squad that won with essentially a six-man rotation. Typically, Xavier allows just under 67 points per game and holds opponents to 41 percent shooting.
Xavier did manage to hold PC to 29.4 percent shooting in the first half. The second half was a different story as the Friars hung 46 points on the Musketeers on 64 percent shooting.
“We had our own deficiencies today, but you have to give a lot of that credit to coach Cooley, his staff and the kids we battled,” said Mack. “I thought our defense was terrible. It was pathetic and not who we have been.”
The Friars wasted little time in showing they were ready to play. PC grabbed four offensive rebounds in the first eight minutes on its way to attempting 12 free throws in the first half. The toughness that Cooley’s team showed helped offset the offensive deficiencies as the Friars went into halftime up 35-31.
“I thought we were getting quality shots in the first half. They just weren’t going down,” said Cooley.
Both teams finished with just six turnovers with Xavier winning the rebounding battle, 40-38. The Friars had to contend with serious foul trouble as three players had four personals with under five minutes remaining.
Harris had five points late in the first half as Providence took a 35-31 lead. A Stainbrook layup pulled the Musketeers within 38-37 early in the second half but a Cotton 3-pointer and free throw plus as assist on a Henton 3 put the Friars up 53-41 at 13:24.
A Jalen Reynolds layup, two free throws by Christen and Isaiah Philmore’s layup got Xavier within 58-54 at the 8:31 mark but Josh Fortune hit a 3 at 5:20 and the lead was back at 10.