RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Southern California is finally back in the NCAA Tournament. Providence wants to stick around for a change.
The eighth-seeded Trojans (21-12) play their first tournament game since 2011 on Thursday night when they face the ninth-seeded Friars (23-10) in the first round of the East Regional.
‘‘This was our goal, ultimately, coming into the season,’’ guard Julian Jacobs said. ‘‘A lot of other spectators thought that we were maybe a year away, but we knew we had the talent. It was just a matter of executing and winning games.’’
Over the last 18 years, the Friars have had more coaches (four) than NCAA Tournament victories (zero), and they’ve gone one-and-done in each of the last two seasons.
‘‘Being a young kid last year, it was an eye-opening experience for me,’’ sophomore Kyron Cartwright said. ‘‘It’s been on my mind since that day, that I wanted to be back in this position.’’
Coach Andy Enfield followed 20-loss seasons in his first two years by winning 20 games, the program’s first 20-win season since 2008-09. That’s also the last time they won a tournament game; they lost their opener in 2011, and haven’t been back until now.
‘‘Honestly, it was miserable the first two years,’’ Jacobs said. ‘‘I’d never been a part of a team that was the laughingstock of a conference like we were our first two years. But I think the coaching staff as a whole did a really good job of reiterating that it’s not always going to be like this.’’
Both teams endured stretches of six losses in eight games that knocked them out of the national rankings.
Providence fell from 8th in the country to a No. 9 seed, while Southern California had two one-week stints in the Top 25 before going cold in February.
Ben Bentil led the Big East with a 21.2-point scoring average while do-it-all conference player of the year Kris Dunn averages 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists from his spot at point guard.
‘‘We’ve just got to feed off of them,’’ guard Junior Lomomba said of the Friars’ supporting cast.
The Trojans take a more balanced approach, with six players averaging 9.8 or more points and seven scoring at least 19 in a game. They rank 20th in Division I at nearly 81 points per game.
‘‘It’s our system, it’s our identity as far as sharing the basketball,’’ Enfield said. ‘‘To do that, you have to defend. … That’s the reason we’re able to get out and run against certain teams.’’
Some things to know about the Providence-Southern California game:
DUNK CITY REUNION: Let’s hope Enfield doesn’t make a turn into the wrong locker room: The Southern Cal and Florida Gulf Coast locker rooms are right next to each other at PNC Arena. Enfield led Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 in 2013 before he was hired by Southern Cal. The 16th-seeded Eagles play top-seeded North Carolina earlier Thursday night.
CLARK’S IMPACT: Forward Darion Clark figures to be a major factor on the glass for Southern Cal. He missed seven games in February with a shoulder injury, and the Trojans went 2-5 in them while failing to outrebound any of those opponents. He had 10 rebounds in 20 total minutes in two games at the Pac-12 Tournament.
COMMON OPPONENT: The Friars and Trojans both beat Arizona once this season but combined to lose three times to Xavier — two by Providence in league play, once by Southern Cal in a Thanksgiving tournament in Orlando, Florida.
LONG TWO DECADES: Providence’s last NCAA Tournament win came in 1997, when God Shammgod and Austin Croshere led the Friars to a regional final loss in overtime to eventual national champion Arizona. That started a streak of five straight tournament losses.