PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Providence and Rutgers are nowhere near the top of the Big East standings, but the Friars felt their 76-72 victory Saturday night over Rutgers was very big for their program.
‘‘That’s all we talked about the last two days was winning a road game and not playing in that Tuesday game,’’ said Providence coach Ed Cooley, referring to the teams ranked 11-14 that play on the first day of the Big East Tournament. ‘‘Not playing in that Tuesday game. I thought this was a great stepping stone for us as a program. The last three years we played in that game and we didn’t do very well. We’re very fortunate to win this game.’’
Guard Bryce Cotton scored 22 points, including two foul shots with 5 seconds left, and forward LaDontae Henton dropped in 18 points as Providence won its fifth Big East game of the month before 5,533 fans at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Kadeem Batts added 14 points and Vincent Council had 12 to give Providence (15-12, 7-8) four players in double digits. Providence is 5-1 in six February Big East games, with its only loss coming against No. 8 Syracuse last Wednesday.
Council, the Big East’s all-time leading assist leader, came through with a clutch basket when he drove for two points with 16.2 seconds left, handing Providence a 74-69 lead. Council finished with six assists and did not turn over the ball in his 35 minutes on the court.
‘‘We’re a better basketball team when he’s setting the table and handing out assists,’’ Cooley said, ‘‘but we need him to score baskets to win games. That’s what you need from your seniors. We wanted to use the shot clock as much as possible and we happened to make a really good play (by Council) to win it.’’
Dane Miller came off the bench to lead Rutgers (13-13, 4-10) with 17 points and reserve Kadeem Jack was the second-leading scorer for the Scarlett Knights with a career-high 15 points.
Jack’s free throw had cut the Rutgers deficit to 64-60 with 4:17 left to play, but Cotton helped seal it for the Friars with a two-handed dunk off a fast break and then converted a reverse layup after hauling in a Kris Dunn pass on a dash down the court. The second basket made it 68-61 with 3 minutes to go.
Rutgers, which led by as many as 11 points in the first half, held a 33-23 advantage with 4:41 left before the break. But Providence, sparked by Cotton, scored 19 straight points over the final 4:16 to take a 42-33 lead at intermission.
‘‘We blinked,’’ Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. ‘‘When the other team goes on a run, we have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves. You can’t do that in this league. We just seem to lose that edge. It’s frustrating. Tonight it cost us the game.’’
Cotton ignited the run with a pull-up jumper and capped the spree by completing a four-point play on a 3-pointer and foul shot with 41.3 seconds showing. He then nailed a 3-pointer with 2 seconds to go. Council contributed a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup in the Friars’ streak.
Providence hit 8 of 20 3-pointers, led by Cotton and Henton with three apiece. The Friars sank 18 of 24 free throws. Rutgers hit 17 of 24 fouls shots.