5 things to know about the Providence men’s basketball team

Providence's Kyron Cartwright and Isaiah Jackson celebrate after overtime in the Big East men's tournament semifinals.

The Providence Friars face Texas A&M on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

When the committee announced the bracket Sunday, the Friars learned they had earned an at-large bid and the No. 10 seed in the West Region. They’ll face the seventh-seeded Aggies in Charlotte, N.C. for the chance to take on the winner of North Carolina vs Lipscomb in the round of 32.

Providence arrives in Charlotte after three straight overtime games in the Big East tournament. The Friars beat Creighton in the quarterfinal, upset Xavier, then fell to Villanova in the championship game. Both Xavier and Villanova are No. 1 seeds heading into March Madness.

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Here’s what you need to know ahead of the Friars’ game Friday at 12:15 p.m. on CBS:

The Friars have taken down top opponents in an up-and-down season

The Big East sent six teams to the tournament this year, including two of the No. 1 seeds. Providence beat both this season. The Friars topped Xavier 81-72 in January, then erased a 17-point deficit at Madison Square Garden to bounce the Musketeers in the Big East semifinal. While Providence, playing in its third overtime in as many nights, couldn’t pull off the upset against Villanova, it did beat the Wildcats 76-71 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in February. But the Friars’ record isn’t spotless. They finished the season 21-13 overall and 10-8 in the Big East for an RPI of 32, but went 4-7 on the road. Their record includes a loss at home to last-place DePaul, a program whose fans just bought a full-page ad calling for their athletic director’s firing.

Kyron Cartwright is quickly becoming a star

Cartwright is the Friars’ senior point guard. He started on the opening night of the season four years ago playing alongside Kris Dunn of the Chicago Bulls and never looked back. The Compton native played 128 minutes over three days in the Big East tourney, dropping 19 points and six assists as the Friars forced overtime in the final. During the regular season, Cartwright led the conference in assists for the second straight year. He’s struggled with injuries over the course of the season, but finds himself in the tournament once again. Cartwright’s class is the first in school history to make it to the NCAA tournament in all four of its seasons in Providence.

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“When Kyron is playing at a high level, we can beat any team in the country,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “Unfortunately that type of pressure is on him — that’s what he signed up for. When he plays well, we’re a tough out.”

The Friars have a freshman from Massachusetts

Providence trailed Xavier by 14 points at halftime of the Big East semifinal. It needed a spark, and found one in a 6-foot-3 freshman guard who hadn’t left the bench during the first half. Makai Ashton-Langford’s two quick shots and a steal sparked the Friars to their comeback win. Ashton-Langford is from Worcester, Mass., Brewster Academy, and the Mass Rivals AAU team. He led Brewster to a 33-0 record and the national prep championship, then committed to UConn, decommitted from UConn, and made the adjustment to the college game in Providence.

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“College is busy. Everything rolls into the next thing,” Ashton-Langford said. “The (academic) work comes at you a lot faster, then you have study hall every day, practice, you have to eat right, get my ankles taped. It’s real busy.”

The Providence mascot was birthed from the ashes of a dead Dalmation

Dominican friars founded Providence College in 1917, and when the school introduced its first mascot in 1936 they named the canine after the “watchdogs of the Lord.” According to Yahoo Sports’ Ben Rohrbach, that first Dalmatian puppy was succeeded by Friar Boy I, II, III and IV. But when Friar Boy IV went to the place all good dogs go in 1963, the school decided to introduce a human mascot instead of finding a Friar Boy V and risking heartbreak again. They took the risk again in the ’90s with another real Dalmatian, then switched back to a human when the inevitable occurred.

Rohrback described Friar Don, the new mascot, as a “soulless dystopian dictator who will march us all into madness if we stare into those cavernous eyes.”

Providence Friars
The Providence Friars mascot performs during the Big East Basketball Tournament. —Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Ed Cooley didn’t let ripped pants slow him down

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The Friars’ head coach has brought his team to a program-record fifth-consecutive tournament appearance. Cooley, a Providence native, coached across New England before landing back home. He graduated from Stonehill College, then moved to the sidelines at UMass-Dartmouth, Stonehill, URI, Fairfield, and Boston College. He’s posted a 123-80 mark in six seasons with the Friars, and he proved his perseverance on Saturday in the 76-66 loss to Villanova. During the second half, Cooley split the back of his suit pants. He grabbed a Gatorade towel, covered the rip, and continued coaching.

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