I’m not sure how I’m going to remember this game.
There’s a part of me that wants to say I’ll remember the final 30 seconds of regulation – Kyron Cartwright bringing the ball up, Providence and Villanova tied, and Providence having a chance to win their second Big East Tournament in four years. Will I remember the deafening sound of a sold out Madison Square Garden, shouting with anticipation and eagerness? Will I remember shutting the lid to my laptop and turning my phone over to silence all other distractions (before taking my phone back out to record the last 30 seconds)? Will I remember the sinking feeling I had in my heart when Cartwright went up, put the ball over the rim…and watched it rattle and come back out? Will this be one of those losses that stings years and even decades later?
It could, but it doesn’t have to be. And I know for most of the fans I spoke to, this won’t be that game for them.
Sure, the loss will sting – we were on the cusp of winning the Big East Tournament after all, that does hurt – but even after the pain of the overtime loss to the Villanova Wildcats became normal, I started hearing something different from fans: reassurance.
‘There’s nothing to feel bad about from that game other than that we lost,’ one fan told me at Blarney Rock, just a few doors down from MSG. They went on to describe the grit the Friars showed rallying back every time they went down, finding new ways to respond to Villanova’s threats. They talked about Cooley’s adjustments and ability to get the most out of his players. And then, looking around and noticing more Providence College hoodies, the fan got up on his chair and began a ‘Let’s Go Friars!’ chant. Fans joined in.
This was a loss for the Friars, but not a defeat to the fanbase. All throughout Manhattan Friar fans were wandering the streets with their heads held high. They went to Blarney Rock, and Jack Dempsey’s, and Mustang Harry’s, and they celebrated a good season. At times they still couldn’t believe their team had made it that far and gotten that close. The belief that the Friars could make some noise in the NCAA Tournament was stronger and more confident than ever. To the fans, this game wasn’t a nail in the coffin, it was a memorable experience and another example of where this program is headed.
And it was memorable. A sellout crowd at MSG that, at times, you truly wouldn’t know which fanbase brought more fans. Sure, maybe Villanova did have numbers, but Providence had a spirit unlike any other fanbase in college basketball. They got loud to the point where they drowned out Villanova fans to keep the energy flowing. They fed off their team, and in turn gave the team all the support they could. I challenge anyone to point to a better conference tournament atmosphere. It simply doesn’t exist. When people talk about the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, this is the atmosphere they refer to.
And for Providence fans, they weren’t observing this – they were creating it.
As I write this column from the comfort of a hotel room I booked at 1:30 in the morning, I think about last night a little longer. The decisive shot remains on my mind, but it’s the fans and the team I’ll remember. The fans turned out not because they felt they deserved a win, and not because they were even certain the Friars would pull it off. These fans turned out in numbers, made an unforgettable atmosphere, and felt good after a loss because of their love for Providence basketball. It’s infectious, bringing a fanbase together and connecting them to a team they can be proud of.
All season I’ve talked about the identity of the Friars, but I haven’t talked much about the identity of Friar fans. Last night was all the evidence anyone needed to know what this fanbase is about, and just how much they love their program from head coach to every single athlete and personnel. So, on second thought, I’ll remember this game for what it was: another memorable experience as a Friar fan, with the Friar community.
Today is Selection Sunday. In a few hours the Providence Friars will have a new opponent to prepare for, at a new location. But no matter who they play, or where they go, the fans will be there, supporting their team.