For the first time since the first half of their December 2 matchup with Boston College, Kris Dunn was back on the court for the Providence Friars. It was a much needed boost for the Friars, who alleviated all their fans' fears of a potential upset loss to Massachusetts with a 90-66 win on Monday night in Amherst.
The real story for the Friars was the continued scoring punch of Ben Bentil. He scored early and often, freeing himself up for both easy layups and mid-to-long range jumpers. His final stat line was a career-high 32 points and 11 rebounds, good for one of two Providence double-doubles on the game. Bentil's previous career high had been 24 points, set earlier this season.
Dunn's presence clearly opened up the Friars' offense, one which had struggled through big parts of their last two and a half games without him. Dunn was an ultra-efficient 6-for-9 from the field, finishing with 14 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds in his return. Jalen Lindsey was the third Friar to score in double digits; the streaky shooter caught fire early, finishing with 15 points and three three-point field goals. Junior Lomomba chipped in on offense as well, adding 11 points. Rodney Bullock added eight points, and Drew Edwards five to round out the scoring for Providence.
The key in the first half was Providence's ability to score in transition. The Minutemen struggled to find the bottom of the basket for large portions of the half, and Dunn and the Friars took advantage. With UMass hanging tough down 20-12, Dunn drilled a three to stretch the lead to 11. He then took advantage of poor transition defense off of a UMass miss to find a streaking Lindsey, whose layup opened the lead up to 25-12. Although UMass closed the deficit to 12 points at halftime, it never really felt that close; in fact, Providence led by as much as 18 in the first half.
Unlike the last two games, the Friars refused to let their opponent hang around. They were relentless on the offensive glass, and looked much more focused and locked in on the defensive end. A lot of that can be attributed to Dunn's return, but much of it can be attributed to the Friars' likely urge to put their opponent away once and for all this time.
With Ryan Fazekas out again due to illness, Edwards once again found himself playing key minutes. Cooley played just seven players before the game got out of hand, and Edwards was one of them. The sharpshooting freshman may be counted on as Big East play begins, and as the Friars continue to look for three-point shooters to stretch the floor.
For UMass, Jabarie Hinds and Trey Davis added 16 and 14 points, respectively. Antwan Space was the only other player in double figures, pitching in 11 points. They fall to 6-5, and return to action on December 29, when they will take on LIU Brooklyn.
The 12-1 Friars, now ranked tenth in the AP Top 25, will have another long layoff before playing at Butler on December 31. It will be their first true test since a 74-72 victory at Rhode Island, and will mark the beginning of Big East play.