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NCAA hockey tourney: Lowell beats Yale in overtime; BU gets crushed by Denver

03.26.16 at 10:45 pm ET
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UMass Lowell will play for a chance to reach its second Frozen Four in four years. The River Hawks beat Yale 3-2 in overtime in Saturday’s NCAA tournament opener in the East Regional in Albany and will now take on Quinnipiac in the regional final Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

Joe Gambardella was the hero for Lowell, as the junior forward scored both the tying and winning goals. He tied the game at 2-2 with 13:48 left in regulation when a nice rush by him and C.J. Smith ended with him knocking home a loose puck in the crease. Then he ended it 1:37 into overtime when he took advantage of a Yale turnover and fired a shot past Alex Lyon.

The River Hawks’ Michael Fallon opened the scoring 4:27 into the game, but then Yale got goals from Frankie DiChiara late in the first and Ryan Hitchcock midway through the second to build up the 2-1 lead. Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle made 35 saves in the win.

– The hope for Boston University was that it would be able to regroup during its week off after getting swept by UMass Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals and come back strong to start the NCAA tournament. That 100 percent did not happen, as the Terriers suffered a 7-2 demolition at the hands of Denver in the opening round of the West Regional in St. Paul.

The Terriers failed to convert on two early power plays and things quickly went downhill from there. Blake Hillman and Dylan Gambrell scored late in the first to make it 2-0 Denver, then Will Butcher and Matt Marcinew scored early in the second to put the game well out of reach. The Pioneers eventually pushed it to 6-0 before BU finally got on the board. Bruins prospect Danton Heinen had three assists for Denver and now has 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) during a 17-game point streak.

Heinen and the Pioneers will face Ferris State in the regional final Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

– North Dakota became the first team to punch its ticket to the Frozen Four, as the Fighting Hawks beat Michigan 5-2 in the Midwest Regional final in Cincinnati. This will be North Dakota’s 11th Frozen Four appearance in the last 20 years. It last reached the national championship game in 2005 and last won it all in 2000.

NCAA hockey tourney: BC tops Harvard to advance to Northeast Regional final

03.25.16 at 11:37 pm ET
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WORCESTER — Leave it to Boston College to salvage an otherwise rough day for Hockey East. After Northeastern, Providence and Notre Dame all lost earlier on Friday, the second-seeded Eagles beat third-seeded Harvard 4-1 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

BC will face Minnesota-Duluth, who knocked off top-seeded Providence in double overtime, in Saturday night’s Northeast Regional final. The Eagles will be looking to reach the Frozen Four for the 12th time in the last 19 years.

The win was something of a righting of the ship for the Eagles, who struggled a bit in the Hockey East tournament. They barely squeaked by Vermont in the quarterfinals (they needed overtime in a decisive Game 3) and then lost to Northeastern in the semifinals last week. Friday marked the Eagles’ second win over Harvard this season, as they also beat the Crimson 3-2 in the opening round of the Beanpot back on Feb. 1.

For Harvard, Friday’s loss was its seventh straight one-and-done in the NCAA tournament dating back to 2002. The Crimson’s last NCAA tournament victory came in 1994.

BC opened the scoring 7:59 into the game when Alex Tuch eventually scored during a chaotic scramble in the crease. The play was reviewed, and Tuch clearly made contact with Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen, but the goal was upheld, presumably because Tuch had been pushed into Madsen by a Harvard player.

Harvard’s Ryan Donato, a Bruins prospect, nearly tied the game eight minutes later when he deked out BC goalie Thatcher Demko and tried to tuck the puck inside the post, but he couldn’t quite get there and put it off the side of the net instead.

The Eagles then made it 2-0 on a power-play goal with 1:02 left in the first. Miles Wood led the rush into the zone, had a centering pass blocked, got the puck back, circled around the net, wheeled into the high slot and then found Austin Cangelosi at the doorstep for an easy tap-in.

The Crimson had another just-miss in the closing seconds of the period when Kyle Criscuolo took a carom off the end boards and put it off the post. The puck then bounced around in the crease, and Jimmy Vesey was right there, but it somehow stayed out.

While Harvard struggled to bury its chances, the Eagles continued to capitalize on theirs. Tuch scored his second of the game to make it 3-0 early in the second when he streaked down the left wing and fired a shot high glove.

Harvard finally got on the board with 10:10 left in the second when Seb Lloyd took a pass from Jake Horton and flipped a shot over Thatcher Demko’s glove. The Crimson continued to pressure after that goal and controlled play a bit, but couldn’t score again before the end of the period. BC had the last chance of the period, nearly making it 4-1 when Colin White streaked in alone in the closing seconds, but Madsen came up with a big save.

The Crimson struggled to generate grade-A chances in the third as they attempted to come back. They pulled the goalie on a power play with 4:18 to go still trailing by two, but BC took advantage of a turnover and Cangelosi scored on the empty net to seal the victory.

NCAA hockey tourney: Providence loses to Minnesota-Duluth in 2OT; Northeastern falls to North Dakota

03.25.16 at 8:20 pm ET
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WORCESTER — For the second Friday night in a row, Providence played a multiple overtime game. And for the second week in a row, the Friars suffered a devastating loss. One week after losing to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals in triple overtime, they had their season and national title defense end with a 2-1 double overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth in Friday night’s NCAA tournament opener.

After no one scored in the first extra period, UMD’s Karson Kuhlman scored the game-winner 57 seconds into the second overtime when he poked a rebound over the line. The Bulldogs will face the winner of Friday night’s Boston College vs. Harvard game in Saturday night’s Northeast Regional final.

The Friars nearly ended it a little over four minutes into the first overtime when Nick Saracino took a pass on the rush and rang a shot off the crossbar. UMD started to take control as the first overtime wore on and had some long offensive zone possessions in the final five minutes of the period, but Nick Ellis — who made 52 saves in the game — stood tall and the Friars hung on until the intermission.

The game was 0-0 through two periods, but then UMD’s Tony Cameranesi scored 3:18 into the third on a slap shot from the right boards that Ellis probably should’ve stopped. It seemed like that one slip-up might be all it took to end Providence’s national title defense given that the Friars had gone more than 150 minutes without scoring a goal stretching back to last Friday triple overtime loss to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals.

But the Friars finally snapped their goal drought four minutes later on a bit of a broken play. Ryan Tait’s shot off the rush was partially blocked, but it bounced right to Steven McParland in front, and he whacked it past Kasimir Kaskisuo to tie the game at one.

Ellis atoned for the Cameranesi goal with some great goaltending down the stretch. He made a highlight-reel sprawling save on a Kyle Osterberg chance from right in front, then made several big stops on two late UMD power plays.

With just under four minutes left in regulation the teams traded breakaway chances, with Kaskisuo stoning Saracino and then Ellis robbing Austin Farley less than 10 seconds later.

After not having any good chances in the first period, the Friars got a great look 1:50 into the second period when Brandon Tanev’s forecheck forced a turnover that popped out to Saracino alone in the slot. Saracino fired wide, though.

A potential turning point came 3:24 into the second when Providence’s Conor MacPhee was ejected for a hit to the head on Osterberg, giving UMD a five-minute power play. However, UMD took a penalty of its own 1:02 into that power play when Dominic Toninato interfered with Tanev. Neither team did anything on the ensuing four-on-four, and the Friars were able to kill off the remainder of MacPhee’s major once Toninato’s penalty expired.

The Friars killed another penalty midway through the second, then finally started to create a little bit of offense toward the end of the period. Erik Foley found Tom Parisi in the slot with just over two minutes left in the frame, but Kaskisuo made the save. More offensive zone time led to Providence’s first power play with 1:39 left in the period, but like the Bulldogs, the Friars couldn’t cash in on the man advantage.

UMD had more zone time in the first period, but neither team was able to generate much in the way of quality scoring chances. The best opportunity came with 2:36 left in the period when UMD’s Karson Kuhlman cut across the crease after driving wide, but Ellis held his ground and made the save.

***********

– Northeastern’s dream season came to an end with a 6-2 loss to top-seeded North Dakota in the opening round of the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati. Nolan Stevens gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead 3:07 into the game with his team-leading 20th goal of the season, but then North Dakota scored five straight goals over the next 24 minutes of game action to take a commanding 5-1 lead and put the game out of reach.

The loss ends the Huskies’ remarkable second-half run, which saw them overcome a 1-11-2 start to go 20-1-2 from Dec. 19 through the Hockey East tournament, culminating in their first Hockey East championship since 1988 and first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

Reports: Notre Dame leaving Hockey East for Big Ten

03.22.16 at 8:58 pm ET
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The Notre Dame-in-Hockey East experiment was short-lived. The Fighting Irish will be leaving the league to join the Big Ten after the 2016-17 season, according to multiple reports.

Notre Dame joined Hockey East in 2013 after the CCHA was disbanded. It reached the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden in its first season in the league and reached the NCAA tournament in two of its three years as a Hockey East member, including this season.

Notre Dame will become the Big Ten’s first affiliate member in hockey, as the conference previously had a policy against affiliate members in any sport. However, it recently ended that precedent by adding Johns Hopkins as an affiliate member in men’s lacrosse.

Hockey East, meanwhile, will return to an all-New England league with Notre Dame’s departure. While the Fighting Irish certainly had their perks — they’re a name brand, they’re a strong program, and they have their own TV deal with NBC that led to more TV games for the rest of Hockey East — many fans around the league consistently lamented having a member from outside New England.

There had been plenty of rumors that Notre Dame was never truly happy in Hockey East, due mostly to having to travel much more than the other 11 teams, so this news isn’t a total shock. Moving to the Big Ten will reunite the program with former CCHA rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.

According to College Hockey News, Notre Dame will owe Hockey East $250,000 as an exit fee, in addition to what it still owes on its entrance fee.

The big question from a Hockey East perspective now becomes whether the league will fill Notre Dame’s spot and stay at 12 teams, and if it does, who will be the newcomer? Quinnipiac and Holy Cross are sure to come up (and already have, to be honest), as both would make sense. Quinnipiac would instantly add another national championship-caliber program, while Holy Cross would need to go through a build-up process similar to the one UConn is currently going through.

8 New England teams make NCAA hockey tournament; Bracket set

03.20.16 at 12:32 pm ET
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For the first time ever, Hockey East will send six teams to the NCAA tournament. And for the first time ever, all four Beanpot teams are in the field.

Hockey East was already guaranteed five teams before Saturday night’s conference championship game, and then Northeastern’s win over UMass Lowell made it six. As it turns out, the Huskies would’ve gotten an at-large berth even if they had lost to the River Hawks.

Hockey East regular season co-champions Providence and Boston College will both be in the Northeast Regional in Worcester. Here is the complete bracket and schedule:

Northeast Regional (Worcester)
1. Providence vs. 4. Minnesota-Duluth (Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
2. Boston College vs. 3. Harvard (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Regional final Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU

East Regional (Albany, New York)
1. Quinnipiac vs. 4. Rochester Institute of Technology (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
2. UMass Lowell vs. 3. Yale (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Regional final Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati, Ohio)
1. North Dakota vs. 4. Northeastern (Friday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
2. Michigan vs. 3. Notre Dame (Friday, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Regional final Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2

West Regional (St. Paul, Minnesota)
1. St. Cloud State vs. 4. Ferris State (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPNews)
2. Denver vs. 3. Boston University (Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Regional final Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU

The winners of each regional advance to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida, which begins on April 7.

Foul-prone Providence can’t keep pace with North Carolina in NCAAs

03.20.16 at 3:31 am ET
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Oh, the opportunity was most definitely there.

While most casual observers of college basketball this season wouldn’t have thought much of the Friars’ chances of knocking off a top-seeded team like North Carolina, Providence coach Ed Cooley mentioned in his radio pregame interview, “When opportunity knocks, don’t ask who it is. Tear the door down.”

And for 25 minutes, the Friars stood toe-to-toe with one of the sport’s true blue-blood programs. In the end however, UNC’s depth and ability to score in the lane, its lights-out performance from the free throw line, and Providence’s inability to connect on open shots brought PC’s season to an end with an 85-66 decision at PNC Arena.

With the loss, the Friars end their season at 24-11. North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, advances to the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia, where it will face Indiana.

A tightly contested, even chippy first half of play had both teams exchanging leads — UNC up seven at one point, PC up three at another — until the Tar Heels settled in with a four-point cushion (34-30) at halftime. For a second straight game, Friars star Kris Dunn (29 points) was forced to sit for much of the half, picking up a second foul with 11:07 remaining after having scored 10 of his team’s first 14 points.

Providence came out to start the second half with a burst of energy, led by Dunn. Two quick baskets plus a steal from Dunn, and two free throws from Ben Bentil gave the Friars a 36-34 lead with less than a minute gone in the period. But a sign of things to come quickly followed, as Bentil picked up his second foul only 1:15 into the half.

His third foul followed less than a minute later, and all of a sudden a team that needed its two stars to stay on the floor lost the initial aggressiveness displayed in the opening couple of minutes. The Tar Heels pounded the ball inside and took advantage.

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Northeastern beats UMass Lowell to capture first Hockey East title in 28 years

03.19.16 at 9:40 pm ET
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Northeastern celebrates its first Hockey East championship in 28 years. (WEEI.com)

Northeastern celebrates its first Hockey East championship in 28 years. (WEEI.com)

Sometimes the best plays are the ones that don’t go according to plan. And sometimes those plays end 28-year championship droughts. That was the case Saturday night when Northeastern scored the go-ahead goal on a broken play (and broken stick) with 8:57 to go and went on to win 3-2 to capture its first Hockey East tournament title since 1988.

The Huskies were on the power play at the time thanks to a retaliation penalty by UMass Lowell’s Adam Chapie, and they made the River Hawks pay — just not in a conventional way. John Stevens teed up a one-timer from center point, but his stick shattered.

Fortunately for Northeastern, the puck slid right to Zach Aston-Reese, and also caught Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle off-guard. Aston-Reese calmly flipped a backhander past Boyle for a goal that will go down in Northeastern hockey lore as the one that ended decades of trophy-less frustration.

The River Hawks pressed for a late tying goal, but the Huskies kept them off the board. With 1:32 to go, Ryan Ruck made a huge glove save on a Chapie chance from right in front. When the final buzzer sounded, six balcony sections worth of black-and-red-clad students exploded in celebration, as did long-suffering Northeastern fans everywhere.

The win is just the latest step in Northeastern’s unbelievable turnaround this season. After starting the season 1-11-2, the Huskies managed to pull a complete 180 and turn into the hottest team in the country in the second half, with Saturday’s championship extending their winning streak to 13 games and putting their record at 20-1-2 since Dec. 19. It also secured an NCAA tournament berth, their first since 2009.

Lowell was looking for its third Hockey East tournament title in the last four years, but came up a goal short one night after beating Providence in triple overtime in the ninth-longest game in college hockey history. The River Hawks are still headed to the NCAA tournament, though. The selection show is Sunday.

The game started off looking a lot more like Friday’s high-scoring Northeastern-Boston College semifinal than the Lowell-Providence defensive struggle that preceded it. Northeastern got on the board first just 1:12 into the game on a tic-tac-toe passing play from Dylan Sikura to Mike McMurtry to Adam Gaudette for the finish.

Lowell answered two minutes later when John Edwardh collected a loose puck at the side of the net and roofed it over Ruck’s left arm. It took just three more minutes for the Huskies to retake the lead on the power play, though. Nolan Stevens redirected brother John Stevens’ shot from the point and the puck popped off Boyle before landing behind him and bouncing over the line.

The River Hawks settled down after Northeastern’s second goal and started to take control a little bit, going on a 9-3 shots on goal run at one point. They kept pressing and eventually tied the game with 6:26 left in the second when Chapie won a puck battle behind the net and banked a shot off Ruck’s blocker and in.

Northeastern was the better team in the third period, though, and drew two power plays in the frame, including the one that set up Aston-Reese’s game-winning goal.

Northeastern beats BC to reach Hockey East title game for first time since 1988

03.19.16 at 12:57 am ET
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Northeastern will play in the Hockey East championship game for the first time since 1988. The Huskies continued their incredible second-half run by beating Boston College 5-4 Friday night in the conference semifinals to improve to 19-1-2 over their last 22 games. They’ll take on UMass Lowell, who beat Providence in triple overtime in Friday’s first semifinal, in Saturday night’s title game at TD Garden.

Northeastern scored twice late in the first period and added a pair of power-play goals in the second to build up a 4-2 lead. After BC cut it to 4-3, Lincoln Griffin made it 5-3 with 10:16 left in the game when a terrible backwards pass by Colin White sent him in alone on Thatcher Demko. Alex Tuch cut it to 5-4 a minute later, but the Huskies were able to close out the win from there.

The Huskies dominated for lengthy stretches of the game, as they held BC to seven shots on goal through the first 30 minutes and were up 22-11 in shots at the end of the second. The win increases their chances of getting an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament if they don’t win Saturday night, although they’re still not a lock. A win Saturday would guarantee them a spot.

The Eagles couldn’t have asked for a better first shift, as Miles Wood raced down the left side and beat Ryan Ruck five-hole to give them a 1-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the first period was all Northeastern.

The Huskies outshot BC 10-4 in the opening 20 minutes and tied the game at 1-1 with 5:52 left in the period. Nolan Stevens got things going with a great breakout before hitting Zach Aston-Reese with a pass through the neutral zone. Aston-Reese then made a nice move to get around Ian McCoshen before beating Demko low to the glove side.

It appeared the game would remain tied going into the first intermission, but Northeastern took advantage of a late defensive breakdown by BC to make it 2-1 with 0.9 seconds left in the period. Dylan Sikura found Mike McMurtry in the slot, and McMurtry made a heads-up play to pass on the shot and find Adam Gaudette wide open at the right post for an easy tap-in.

BC responded just 1:10 into the second with Matthew Gaudreau made a nice pass from behind the net to find White for the freshman’s 19th goal of the season. But just like the first period, Northeastern then took control after BC’s goal.

The Huskies took a 3-2 lead on the power play just 1:45 later when Nolan Stevens rushed down the left side, dragged around McCoshen and fired a shot blocker-side for his 18th goal of the season. Northeastern’s power play struck again eight minutes later when Eric Williams walked in from the point and ripped a slap shot glove-side.

The Eagles cut the lead to 4-3 with a power-play goal of their own with 6:06 left in the second. Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald made a nice pass to find Wood at the right post and Wood’s shot just squeaked through Ruck’s pads for his second goal of the game.

The Eagles were already locked into the NCAA tournament before Friday and will now wait for Sunday’s selection show to see where they’ll be for regionals next weekend.

Lowell beats Providence in triple OT to advance to Hockey East title game

03.18.16 at 9:45 pm ET
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One of the longest games in college hockey history is sure to stir up some debate thanks to the way it ended. With 7:33 remaining in the third overtime, UMass Lowell’s Michael Fallon threw a pass to the front that deflected off A.J. White’s skate and in. The play was immediately called no-goal on the ice due to a kicking motion, but the officials overturned it and ruled good goal after a lengthy review because White only directed the puck with his skate and didn’t make a “distinct kicking motion,” which is the requirement to wave off a goal.

That call gave the River Hawks a 2-1 win over Providence and a trip to their fourth straight Hockey East championship game. At 112:27, the game finished as the ninth-longest in Division I college hockey history and the second-longest in Hockey East history. Lowell will face the winner of Friday night’s second semifinal between Boston College and Northeastern in Saturday night’s conference title game.

“I don’t want to question the referees. He was pretty adamant calling it off from the start,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said of the game-deciding review. “It’s just a grey area in our game. It’s really grey. I think half the coaches in our league would watch that play and say that’s definitely a kicking motion and half would say no way. … I don’t know the difference between a direct and a kick, to be honest with you.”

Providence’s Trevor Mingoia nearly ended the game 4:02 into the first overtime when he took a pass from Erik Foley and rang a shot off the left post. Four minutes later Lowell hit a post of its own as C.J. Smith tipped Tommy Panico’s shot from the point.

Each team had a decent chance toward the end of the first overtime as well. With 3:13 remaining, Adam Chapie rushed in off a neutral zone turnover and flipped a backhander on net from in close that Nick Ellis turned aside with his blocker. A minute later, Mingoia had a quick one-on-one against Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle, but Boyle poked the puck away as Mingoia went to his backhand.

Providence’s Mark Jankowski had two good chances in the second overtime. The first was on a wraparound that Boyle just got his stick on. Then he had a shot from the slot that hit the top of the crossbar and deflected out of play. Lowell’s best chance in the second overtime came with 8:15 to go when Chapie cut inside a defenseman and streaked in alone, but he put the shot wide.

The River Hawks had the best chances in the third overtime. White had a backhander from in close, Michael Louria had a redirect from right in front, and Jake Kamrass and Nick Master both had good looks off nice setup passes from Chapie. But Ellis turned away all of them before finally getting beat on White’s game-winning redirect.

Ellis finished with 42 saves, while Boyle had 58.

“We’re very excited to be moving on to the championship game,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “It was a good couple games out there. There were a lot of momentum shifts and I thought the guys did a good job staying with the process. We’re very excited.”

Lowell had a chance to take a 2-1 lead with under six minutes left in regulation when a bad change by the Friars led to a two-on-one. Kamrass centered for a charging Tyler Mueller, but Mueller had to take a split second to settle the puck before shooting, allowing Ellis to get across and make a huge pad save.

Providence had a chance with a minute and a half to go when Jankowski’s shot bounced off the end boards right to Mingoia, who threw a shot on net that Boyle just got his pad on. Then the game opened up in the final minute, with Lowell’s Michael Kapla making a big block on a Brian Pinho shot on a 4-on-3 that led to a River Hawks rush the other way, only to have Pinho hustle all the way back and intercept a pass in the slot to end that chance.

The Friars opened the scoring 6:38 into the game. A few seconds after Lowell’s Dylan Zink cleared a puck off the goal line, Providence freshman defenseman Vincent Desharnais held at the right point before shooting through heavy traffic and beating Boyle for his first collegiate goal.

After mustering just two shots on goal through the first 15 minutes of the game, the River Hawks finally got some offensive zone time in the final few minutes of the period. It paid off with a tying goal with 1:06 to go when Smith made a great move around Kevin Rooney before sliding a shot under Ellis’ pad for his 17th goal of the season.

Each team had 10 shots on goal in the second period, but neither was able to add a goal. The best chance of the period came early on when White found Louria alone in front, but Ellis came up with a big save.

Friendships set aside as Friars prep for Tar Heels

03.18.16 at 8:22 pm ET
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Ed Cooley leads Providence into an NCAA Tournament second-round game against North Carolina on Saturday night. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Ed Cooley leads Providence into an NCAA Tournament second-round game against North Carolina on Saturday night. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

RALEIGH, N.C. — Certainly Ed Cooley has as much respect for North Carolina’s Roy Williams as he has for any coach in the business. Williams, inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, deserves as much.

But when Cooley tells you he’s “friends” with the Hall of Famer, he means it. And so does Williams, who likewise expresses his fondness for Cooley. The two have their mutual admiration society friendship, and perhaps a couple of other things on the line Saturday night (9:50 p.m. tip-off, 9:15 broadcast on 103.7 WEEI-FM) when the Friars face the top-seeded Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament’s second round at PNC Arena.

“Eddie is a good friend. He’s a good guy,” Williams said Friday afternoon, with his team preparing for Providence. “I enjoy him. But he’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen in my life in a yoga class. Other than that, he’s a good friend and we enjoy each other. Ask Eddie about the yoga class.”

Naturally, we took the bait.

“Wow, that’s funny,” was Cooley’s reply. “We were in Hawaii together on a Nike trip and my wife asked me to take yoga for the first time in my life. At that point, I was about 370 pounds. I’ll never try it again. I am the worst yoga participant in the history of that exercise. And Coach [Williams] lets me know about it every time he sees me. That’s funny.”

All kidding aside, each knows he and his team have their hands full in trying to stop or slow down the other. For Providence, you can add a nearly full house of hometown fans on hand as well, with UNC’s Chapel Hill campus a mere 20 minutes away. For a second straight year, the Friars face a virtual home-court disadvantage at a neutral site.

“It’s a great challenge,” Cooley said. “We’ve played in tough venues before, we’ve played in front of 15,000-20,000 people. But now, it’s just you’re playing for bigger stakes. You don’t complain about it, you just try to maximize the opportunity.”

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