Ben Bentil led all scorers with 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Providence College Friars to a thrilling 70-69 victory over the University of Southern California Trojans in the first round of the NCAA Eastern Regionals played in Raleigh, NC. It was the first time the Friars had won a game in the NCAA Tournament since the Clinton Administration. Kris Dunn and Rodney Bullock added 16 points apiece, while Kyron Cartwright added 10 points off the bench in a balanced offensive attack by the Friars.
Jordan McGloughlin led SC with 15 points, while Nikola Jovanovic chipped in with 14 points, Bennie Boatwright added 11 and Elijah Stewart had 10 for the Trojans, who ended the season at 21-13.
The first half was as tightly contested as could be, with the Trojans holding a one-point advantage, 36-35, at intermission. That simply set the stage for the kind of drama that defines the term
With 20 seconds remaining in regulation, USC led by five points. SC guard John McGloughlin launched a half-court outlet pass to Julian Jacobs, but the past came up short, and Bentil made the Trojans pay with a dunk. Then, down 69-68 with 16 seconds remaining in regulation, Bentil took a perfect feed from Dunn under the basket, but had his shot blocked by 6-11 freshman forward Chimezie Metu. Then, after recovering the ball, Big Ben had his put-back blocked by the Trojans’ Elijah Stewart. The play was originally ruled Providence ball, but after reviewing the play, the officials ruled, incredulously, that the ball had hit Bentil before going out of bounds, and the Trojans were awarded the ball, up one, with 15.8 seconds remaining in regulation.
Things did not look good in Friarland.
And just then, it got even worse.
Jalen Lindsey tied up Southern Cal sophomore guard Shaqquan Aaron on the ensuing inbounds pass, a jump ball was called, but SC owned the possession light and retained possession. As SC brought the ball down court, Kyron Cartwright was called for a foul on Jacobs at midcourt—even though Cartwright and most of the Friar faithful thought the ball had gone off of Jacobs’ knee. Jacobs, however, missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the Friars still had life.
Dunn raced down court and threw up a pull-up jumper in front of the SC basket, but missed the shot with three seconds left. Over, right? Not quite yet…
With three seconds on the clock, Drew Edwards in-bounded the ball to Bullock in the paint. But Stewart, who was defending Bullock, switched off on the play and in a classic case of miscommunication, no other Trojan rotated in leaving Bullock all by himself underneath the bucket for the easy two. SC inbounded the ball with 1.5 ticks remaining, but a desperation three-quarters of the court shot bounced off the basket and the Friars had their first win at The Dance since 1997—the year that Pete Gillon’s team, led by current PC assistant coach God Shammgod, made a run all the way to the Great Eight before falling to eventual national champion Arizona.
“Kris and Ben took a lot of the attention away,” said Bullock after the game. “I guess Drew saw me and made a great play and I just finished it.”
“A simple ball out of bounds,” added Jacobs. “We go over it every single day.”
All season long, the media had been spouting about how the Friars needed someone to step up to join the “Big Two” (Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil). Somehow, they overlooked the fact that Bullock had, indeed, been stepping up to the plate all season. Thursday night’s game was his eighth double-double of the season.
This, it seems, was the reason Dunn, the two-time defending Big East Player of the Year and first-team All-America candidate, shocked the world and returned to PC for his junior season rather than declaring for the NBA Draft, where he certainly would have been a first-round pick, last season.
“It means a lot,” said the former New London High star on his first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. “I know what it’s like to be on the other end and the fact that we’re advancing is amazing. For me personally because I’m a senior, I wanted to advance and go further. For the team, it’s amazing because of how we worked and the fact that we’re advancing. Providence College, as a whole, as a community, they’ve been waiting for a moment like this. Just happy and appreciative to give them something like that because they’ve been supporting us all year.”
The Friars, the No. 9 seed in the East region, now advance take on hometown favorite North Carolina Saturday in Raleigh. The Friars will be hoping to avenge a 79-77 second-round loss to the Tar Heels in the San Antonio two years ago. Tip-off is slated for 9:40 p.m., and the game will be televised on TBS. Jon Rooke and Joey Hassett will also call the game live on WEEI radio, the Friars’ flagship station.