PROVIDENCE, R.I. – One of the country’s best players came to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Saturday night. The best player on the court, however, was a different player, and on some nights that will happen. Bryce Cotton took home the honors in leading Providence to an 81-68 win over Creighton, and it’s a win that says as much about the winners and their leader as it does who they beat.
Providence plays plenty of games on national television, but it’s not every night one of those games involves a player like Doug McDermott. This game may have gotten a few more viewers than some of Providence’s other games for just that reason, and Cotton embraced that stage like he has every other game in his career.
Cotton’s numbers on the night – 23 points on 7-18 shooting, six assists – weren’t other-worldly compared to a lot of his nights. But this wasn’t your ordinary night, and with McDermott not being himself and being somewhat neutralized by the Providence defense, Cotton took center stage.
“Everyone keeps asking me,” said head coach Ed Cooley, “when is Bryce coming out of the game? The reply is, ‘never.’ When he graduates, he’ll come out of the game.”
Cotton has played 708 minutes out of 750 that the Friars have played on the season. He is averaging nearly 44 minutes in Big East play – in fact, by playing all 40 minutes on Saturday night, his average actually went down.
Besides that, he’s played out of position basically all season, as he did last season. The overall offense does suffer some, because he’s better playing off the ball and the team is better if they have him at his natural position. He’s become a better ball-handler and passer, evidenced in part by the fact that he’s already surpassed his assist total for all of last season while turning the ball over eight fewer times. He has a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.
While he won’t win Big East Player of the Year, as that will surely be McDermott’s barring an injury, Cotton will be on the first team. Remember, he led the Big East in scoring last season, and did that while playing through a few injuries as well.
Providence continues to battle and win despite not having depth. Walk-on Ted Bancroft is having to play minutes again for this team as there simply isn’t a backup guard. They have plenty of depth up front, although they could ill-afford an injury there given how low their overall numbers are.
“They’re not a deep team, but those guys they put on the floor can play,” said Creighton head coach Greg McDermott.
Besides the stellar play of Cotton, it’s worth noting that Providence has to be seen as a team with a good shot at the NCAA Tournament if it were held right now. There’s obviously a lot of basketball left to be played, but the Friars’ worst loss came to Seton Hall in double overtime. The Pirates won at Georgetown earlier in the day. The Friars have wins over Georgetown and Creighton, and wins against good-not-great teams like Vanderbilt and La Salle.
Big East play has plenty of land mines left, but also some opportunities for quality wins. Considering the bubble is likely to have a lot of relatively even teams this season, if the Friars avoid bad losses and protect their home court, this team will at least be in the discussion when Selection Sunday rolls around. Another quality win or two will be needed, but for this point in the season they have put themselves in a good position to earn their way in. They have battled all season through a lot of adversity, and all they know is continuing to do that.
And on Saturday night, their star player took center stage when the opportunity presented itself, mainly by doing what he’s continued to do all along.