New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Selection Sunday won't be quite so nerve- wracking for the Providence Friars anymore.
With Bryce Cotton outgunning Doug McDermott for much of the game, the Friars captured only their second-ever Big East Tournament title with a stunning 65-58 victory over 14th-ranked Creighton that secured an automatic bid for one of the NCAA Tournament's firm bubble teams.
Cotton led the way with 23 points and LaDontae Henton came down with 13 rebounds while netting four crucial points down the stretch, a clutch jumper with 45.6 seconds remaining and two late free throws that helped Providence (23-11) earn a spot in the NCAA field for the first time since 2004.
"Our game plan today was to make sure we got to the foul line and got to the rim, and we wanted to play defense with the ball. It's almost like a football team that runs the ball to make sure that we dictated tempo," Providence head coach Ed Cooley said.
The Friars' only previous Big East Tournament championship came in 1994, when they topped Georgetown in the final as a No. 4 seed. Providence entered this event as a fourth seed as well.
McDermott overcame a frustrating first half to finish with 27 points on 10- of-19 shooting, but the Bluejays' potent attack was largely kept in check by a stifling Friars' defense that limited the Big East's highest scoring team to a mere 17 points over the opening period.
"I thought we were kind of panicking almost to start the game, and rushing stuff and not making the extra passes," McDermott said.
Avery Dingman was the only other double-digit scorer for Creighton (26-7), registering 10 points while hitting all five of his field goal attempts.
McDermott was held to a modest nine points in the first half while drawing constant double teams, and he didn't get much help from his teammates as the Bluejays shot an alarming 1-of-12 from 3-point range over the initial 20 minutes.
The Friars rendered Creighton scoreless for more than five minutes during one stretch, a 9-0 run in which Cotton accounted for the first seven points to stake Providence to a 17-9 lead with 7:56 to go in the period.
Creighton appeared to briefly get out of its funk when layups by McDermott and Dingman on back-to-back possessions cut its deficit to 18-15. However, Josh Fortune hit three straight free throws after being fouled from beyond the arc, jump-starting a 6-0 spurt that pushed Providence's margin to 24-15 with less than a minute remaining in the half.
The Friars kept the pressure on after the break, with the lead stretching to 47-35 following Cotton's successful jumper with 12 minutes left.
Creighton remained down by double digits past the midway mark of the second half, but McDermott regained his stroke to spark an 11-4 push that got the Bluejays right back in it. The Big East Player of the Year started and ended the flurry with 3-pointers, the last pulling his team within 56-53 with 2:29 left to play.
Another deep three from McDermott shortly after further closed the gap, trimming Providence's lead to 58-56 entering the final minute. Henton then delivered perhaps the game's biggest shot, a contested 19-footer that swished through with 45.6 seconds left to create a two-possession game once more.
The Friars then forced McDermott to attempt a shot well beyond the 3-point line that hit the front of the rim, with Henton corralling the rebound and making both shots from the line to put the Friars up 62-56 with 29.7 seconds on the clock.
McDermott opted to drive the lane on Creighton's next trip down the court, but his off-balance layup was no good and the ball landed out of bounds to Providence, all but sealing the Friars' first Big East title in 20 years.
Creighton's 17 first-half points were a season low, surpassing a 24-point output in a loss to George Washington in the Wooden Legacy tournament on Dec. 1 ... McDermott poured in a career-high 45 points in the teams' most recent meeting, an 88-73 Bluejays' win in Omaha last Saturday ... Providence finished 23-of-26 from the foul line ... The Friars handed Creighton two of its seven losses this season, having earned an 81-68 home win on Jan. 18 ... The Bluejays were seeking a third consecutive conference tournament title, having won the Missouri Valley in each of the previous two seasons.