The stretch run is here and the Providence Friars are out to make sure there’s a meaningful aura in the time remaining before the start of the Big East Tournament.
Sharp on both ends of the floor, an inspired PC squad grounded Xavier, 83-68, on Wednesday night. Alumni Hall was the scene of one of the best two-way performances of the season as the Friars shot 53 percent and buried 11 threes while holding the Musketeers to 44 percent.
“We’re not dead yet,” said PC head coach Ed Cooley. “I loved our energy from the jump. We played desperate and together. I think that was our most complete game from start to finish.”
Providence (12-11, 7-8 Big East) received contributions from up and down the lineup, though Noah Horchler’s impact – 20 points, nine rebounds – will down as the most profound. David Duke flirted with a triple-double (18 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) while Nate Watson pumped in 15 points.
For Xavier, Zach Freemantle led all scorers with 24 points.
The Friars responded to the eight-day layoff with a 5-of-9 shooting start that snowballed to even greater offensive production. When A.J. Reeves (16 points) buried one of his three 3s, Providence was sitting pretty at 25-12 with 7:17 left in the first half.
Xavier (12-5, 5-5 Big East) got on a bit of a roll with seven straight points before Duke drained a deep three from the left wing that put Providence back ahead by double digits (30-19). The triple represented a milestone as the Providence native reached the 1,000-point career plateau.
It proved to be an ideal opening 20 minutes for the Friars. Their 35-25 lead was highlighted by more assists than turnovers, nearly breaking even on the glass, and the Musketeers are 1-9 from three-point range.
Duke’s involvement of his teammates proved to be spot-on as the Friars continued to own the upper end during the early stages of the second half. Horchler took flight for a pair of dunks – one that was set up by Duke – and Watson hit a jumper – on a pass from Duke – that gave PC a 43-35 lead with 14:34 remaining.
“I was proud that he trusted his teammates more,” said Cooley about Duke.
One of PC’s best responses of the season came after Xavier got to within six (60-54). A three by Reeves was followed by back-to-back triples from Horchler. The efficiency from beyond the arc helped to nullify five points from Freemantle as PC led 69-59 with 5:54 left.
“A lot of hard work … a lot of shots in the gym,” said Horchler about the lengths he’s gone to improve his three-point accuracy.
Horchler reached the 20-point plateau by the time the game’s final media timeout rolled around. By that point, the Friars were up by 11 points and appeared to be well on their way to avoiding another late-game meltdown against Xavier. Back on Jan. 10, the Musketeers were down 73-66 with 1:13 left but came away with a 74-73 win.
Playing in his third game back from a groin injury, Jared Bynum nailed two threes as part of a 10- point, three-assist night that came in 21 minutes.
“I’m very happy with the way he played,” said Cooley.
Big East-wise, the Friars aren’t back in action until Wednesday, March 3 when they travel to St. John’s. Cooley hinted at the possibility of the Friars playing this weekend. They do have an open date to potentially fill.
“Any time you can play a game, it's a positive,” said Cooley, noting that fellow Big East member Marquette went on the road and won at North Carolina on Wednesday.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03