After a three-game losing streak that drained a lot of life out of the out of this Providence College men’s basketball season over the last week, the benefits of Wednesday’s 70-59 win over Connecticut cannot be overstated.
“Right now, it’s do or die,” said Friar forward Noah Horchler. “Everyone in the locker room is celebrating a little bit, but we’re just ready to get back to work tomorrow.”
Taking that step with a winning taste in their mouths was the top priority. PC left the door open for UConn to make a late-game run but came on strong down the stretch to pull out the double-digit victory. The Friars improved to 10-10 and 5-8 in the Big East and next faces road tests at DePaul (Saturday) and against these same Huskies (next Tuesday).
Nate Watson and David Duke shared co-scoring honors as both finished with 17 points. A.J. Reeves was the third PC player to reach double figures (10 points) while Horchler finished a single point shy of a double-double (nine points, 10 rebounds).
PC held Connecticut (8-5, 5-5 Big East) to 37-percent shooting in the second half and sent the visitors to their fourth loss in five tries. R.J. Cole led the Huskies with 14 points.
“They played better. They were tougher. They coaches better than us,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley, now 1-6 in games against Ed Cooley’s Friars.
To regain that winning feeling, the Friars needed to do the opposite of what was the downfall in recent losses to Seton Hall (atrocious offense) and St. John’s (porous defense). Save for missing nine free throws – including the front ends of 1-and-1 tries – PC played with a noticeable purpose on both ends of the floor en route to turning in what Cooley dubbed, “one of our more complete games.”
Looking to put his players in the right frame of mind heading into a must-win game, Cooley noted he changed up the practice routine leading up to facing Connecticut for the first time since 2013.
“I shortened the practices and made them a lot more competitive. I was proud of how we took our carryover from practice to the game,” said Cooley. “I liked David’s leadership today and over the last two days of practice.”
The Huskies came in averaging 13.3 offensive rebounds, an area that Cooley stressed to his players. To the coach’s chagrin, UConn’s first points came on a putback by Adama Sanogo (nine points, eight rebounds). It was a sequence that caused Cooley to react quickly with a timeout 31 seconds into the game.
“You’ve got to send a message. We’ve got to be a lot more dialed in,” said Cooley.
Neither side made a major move in the first half as the Huskies pulled into halftime with a 34-33 edge. The one-point difference was reflected in the shooting percentages. PC connected at a 44-percent clip while UConn was 44 percent.
The start of the second half featured Duke’s best stretch in recent weeks. He scored at all three levels for seven of his team’s eight points as PC opened up a 42-38 lead.
“I was proud of David’s toughness and attack mode. That’s the David we’re accustomed to seeing,” said Cooley. “Hopefully we continue to see him play with that level of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.”
Watson and Horchler took turns in handling the scoring chores in helping PC open things up at 51-44. The lead grew to 11 (55-44) after Alyn Breed made two free throws with 9:15 remaining. Then came a series of empty trips that loomed even larger after UConn moved to within 55-55 with 3:57 to play.
Instead of completely bending, the Friars responded with a hook shot from Watson followed by two free throws from Reeves and a score where Breed was down low. Coupled with getting stops on the other end, the Friars were in a good spot at 64-55 with 1:43 left.
“You look at the execution, but if you look at those three scenarios, we had three consecutive stops and we scored each time,” said Cooley. “Any time you can get three stops in a row under four minutes, you’re going to position yourself to win a basketball game. In the past, we haven’t been able to get those quality stops when we needed them. We were able to do that.”
RIM RATTLERS: Jimmy Nichols may have played his final game this season for the Friars. Nichols missed his third straight game Wednesday with a non-COVID medical condition. “He’s still not feeling well. The doctors don’t think it would be feasible for him to come back given the condition he’s in,” said Cooley. “It’s not 100 percent, but he may be done for the year.” … Jared Bynum (groin) missed his ninth straight game. … The Huskies were without leading scorer James Bouknight (elbow). … A Big East official says the league is trying to reschedule the Jan. 16 Georgetown-at-PC game that was postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Hoyas. The same official also acknowledged that not all regular-season games will be played. “We’re starting to run out of opportunities,” said the official, a nod to less than four weeks to go before the Big East Tournament.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03