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Top-seeded Xavier next obstacle for Providence

NEW YORK — Providence is headed to the Big East Tournament semifinals for the fourth time in five years and will take on No. 3 Xavier at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

The Friars (20-12) made it to the semifinals for the 11th time after defeating Creighton 72-68 in overtime on Thursday. Top-seeded Xavier (28-4) knocked off St. John’s 88-60 to set up the first Big East Tournament meeting between the Musketeers and Providence.

The two schools split their two regular-season games.

Alpha Diallo (19 points) and Jalen Lindsey (11) both set personal bests for the tournament in the win over Creighton. Lindsey was averaging 6.2 points in five previous tournament outings, while Diallo netted 10 points in last season’s quarterfinal loss to Creighton.

It was Diallo’s third game this season with at least 19 points, and he finished six shy of his career and season best. Diallo has scored at least 10 points in seven straight games and 29 of 33 this season.

“This is going to be the first time in the history of Providence College that a recruited class goes to four consecutive tournaments,” said Providence Ed Cooley, “and I can’t be more proud of this group for doing so, which is really, really hard to do given where we took this program from to where we’re trying to go. It’s a credit to what these young men have done.

“I’m proud of them. They’ll all be college graduates. And at the end, as much as we want to win, my job is to build them up as men and make sure they’re educated.”

Xavier turned it over just seven times to 11 giveaways for St. John’s, resulting in a 22-2 advantage in points off turnovers for the Musketeers.

Trevon Bluiett, a first-team All-Big East member, scored a game-high 27 points (8-of-18 shooting) and junior Kaiser Gates added 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting (4 of 5 from 3-point range) for Xavier. Bluiett’s 27 points were a personal best in the Big East Tournament.

“I think we were locked in,” Bluiett said. “I think our guards did a good job executing, taking them out of their game plan, knowing what we’re supposed to do on ball screens and kind of taking them out of the game a little bit, kind of worked for us.”

Xavier is 7-6 in the tournament since joining the league in 2012. Providence, an original member of the Big East, was conference champs in 1994 and 2014.

The Musketeers won their first regular-season conference title, earning the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Providence, which is expected to make the NCAA Tournament, is seeded fifth.

“We had 70 percent of our league making the NCAA Tournament a year ago,” said Xavier coach Chris Mack. “So often they talk about how many teams get in. Well, we have a smaller pool of teams (10) , and this year’s been a dogfight. We certainly came on the right end of a couple of one-possession games.

“But I’m not smart enough and haven’t been in this position enough to know one seed, two seed. I think these guys are always cognizant of the fact when we were an 11 seed it added an extra one and it didn’t matter a year ago.

“We’ve got to go out there and play with desperation and want the game more, and hopefully we continue that ride here as we play on in March.”

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