No.3 Xavier bids for Big East title vs. Providence

With a chance to clinch their first Big East Conference title, No. 3 Xavier will welcome Providence to the Cintas Center on Wednesday night.

This marks the last home contest for J.P Macura, Trevon Bluiett, and Sean O’Mara — three seniors who helped orchestrate one of the most successful seasons in program history.

Still, the group knows that there is work to be done. Namely, clinch the league title, make a deep run in the conference tournament and advance to the Final Four.

“It’ll be a bittersweet moment because you know in your head it’s the last time you’re gonna step on that floor in front of those fans, but at the same time we’ve got a job to do,” Bluiett said.

Standing in the way of Xavier’s historic celebration are the Friars, who snapped the Musketeers‘ 10-game winning streak with an 81-72 shocker last month in Rhode Island.

“I’d like to think that they’ll be locked in,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I don’t want them to occupy their minds with hugging their parents and all that stuff beforehand. It’s about the game. … Our guys aren’t dumb. They understand what they’re playing for and the excitement of it all, but you start focusing on that and not how to defend a ball screen against Kyron Cartwright, you’re going to have problems.”

Cartwright punished Xavier in the first meeting. He scored 19 points, had nine assists and four steals. Rodney Bullock added 17 with six boards and a pair of blocked shots in the Friars’ first victory over a ranked team this season.

“Our kids met the challenge,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Life in the Big East, it’s a monster every single game.”

Providence held Bluiett scoreless in the first half of that contest and limited Xavier to 43 percent shooting overall. The Musketeers went 5-for-18 from distance and committed 15 turnovers in the loss, which brought an end to the best start to a season in Xavier history.

“It certainly wasn’t our day,” Mack said after the loss. “We know who Providence is. We know what each of their strengths is. But being able to take it away, that’s different.”

While Xavier (25-4, 13-3 Big East) has a chance to clinch a title, the Friars (18-11, 9-7) are still playing for the postseason lives.

“We know what we’re playing for,” Providence’s Jalen Lindsey said. “We’re a desperate team right now trying to get some wins.

“We’re taking it game-by-game. We don’t feel as if we’re in a lock position right now. We’re a desperate team and we know we have to keep winning.”

Ohio hasn’t been a welcoming state for Providence, which has dropped eight straight games there under Cooley — four in a row to Xavier, one at Cincinnati and three NCAA Tournament games in Columbus and Dayton.

“They’ve played well at home and we haven’t played well on the road there. But it’s a different year, different time,” Cooley said. “They’re playing for a lot. They can be an overall number one seed (in the NCAA Tournament) and are playing for a Big East Conference championship and obviously for their seniors on Senior Night. So we have a lot going against us.”