A late layup by Rodney Bullock lifted No. 9 Providence over No. 8 USC in first-round NCAA tournament action on Thursday.
Kris Dunn did everything he could to make up for his absent first half. The Big East Player of the Year’s outstanding second half elevated the Friars, and Providence grabbed its first tournament victory since 1997.
Rodney Bullock found a seam in the USC defense with 3.3 seconds remaining, and his lay-in propelled Providence to a thrilling 70–69 win over the Trojans on Thursday night in Raleigh. USC looked prepared to seal the game in the final 30 seconds, but two missed free throws on the front ends of one-and-one fouls opened the door for Dunn and Providence. Dunn’s long-range three tied the game at 68 with 1:27 remaining before a series of chaotic sequences of turnovers, blocked shots, missed free throws and, eventually, Bullock’s game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds remaining.
Dunn sat the final 11:20 of the first half with foul trouble, but had 13 points in the second half to help keep the Friars in a game they looked ready to lose on several different occasions. Sophomore forward Ben Bentil led the Friars with 19 points and Bullock, the hero, finished with 16.
The game was fast-paced, much the way USC coach Andy Enfield likes it, and the Trojans looked primed to grab their first tournament win since 2009. But a disastrous final minute of poor ball movement and missed free throws denied Enfield his signature win since taking the USC job in 2013.
Why it matters
It gives the nation at least one more opportunity to see Dunn, who is expected to be a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft. The Friars were forced to play at USC’s kinetic pace, but still established an inside presence with Bentil and knocked down nine three-pointers to hang in the game. While coach Ed Cooley’s team will be heavy underdogs against North Carolina on Saturday, the Friars showed they can handle and win against teams with high tempo.
Providence meets No. 1 North Carolina on Saturday afternoon in front of a heavy Tar Heel presence in Raleigh.