PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Providence coach Ed Cooley was wide awake in the middle of the night thinking about what he’d say to the fans after his team’s final home game of the season.
The words certainly flowed out more freely after the Friars pulled out a 77-68 victory over pesky Robert Morris in the second round of the NIT on Wednesday night.
“We want to see this place full next season as we begin our quest for a national championship,” Cooley told the raucous crowd.
Vincent Council scored seven of his 12 points in the closing 5:21, including a key 3-point play on his only basket of the game, to carry Providence to the win.
“We’re really excited to fly 10,000 miles to where we’re going to play next,” Cooley said to the media a few minutes after addressing the fans. “We would fly to the moon to play. This time of year, the ball’s still bouncing and you get to play.”
LaDontae Henton led the Friars (19-14) with 21 points and Bryce Cotton had 20. Council added 10 assists and was 10 of 13 from the free throw line despite shooting 1 of 9 from the floor.
Providence will face Baylor in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Karvel Anderson had 18 points and Russell Johnson 16 for Robert Morris (24-11).
“I don’t think we were detailed enough to come into a building like this and beat a Big East team,” Colonials coach Andrew Toole said. “But I don’t think we were as bad we were in the final 3:45.”
The Friars were clinging to a 65-64 edge when Council went to the line and nailed two free throws. He followed that by making his key basket, nailing a spinning off-balance shot while getting fouled as he fell to the floor. He hit the free throw to give the Friars a 70-64 lead with 3 minutes left.
“I thought it had a chance,” Council said when asked if he thought the ball would roll over the edge of the rim. “I was just throwing it up until I heard the whistle.”
Robert Morris ousted defending NCAA champion Kentucky in the opening round.
“It says a lot about us,” Johnson said of the signature win. “It says you’ve got to come out ready to play when you play against us.”
Providence led for most of the second half until the Colonials scored eight unanswered points in 62 seconds, moving ahead 62-61 on Johnson’s 3 with 6:13 to play. Anderson nailed a 3-pointer off a fast break on the previous possession.
Providence went to the free throw line 36 times, making 31 to Robert Morris’ 11 of 15.