On a night that Providence honored one of their program's greatest players, the Friars overcame their shooting woes en route to a 70-66 victory over Creighton, their 21st of the season.
The win pushed them into fourth place in the BIG EAST Conference, a standing they can cement with a victory over St. John's on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Creighton fell to 18-12 on the year, and failed to win against Providence for the fifth straight time. Both teams, along with Butler, now stand at 9-8 in conference play; however, the Friars' season sweeps over both the Blue Jays and the Bulldogs gives them the tiebreaker over both teams.
Ben Bentil hit a 3-pointer with under two minutes left in the second half to open the Friar lead to six points, and once again led the Friars with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Kris Dunn bounced back after a tough, illness-infested stretch with 17 points, six rebounds, and six assists, and Jalen Lindsey had his second straight strong performance, finishing with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
James Milliken stepped up to lead the Blue Jays, pouring in 26 points and connecting on four 3-point field goals. Maurice Watson Jr. battled a groin injury all night, and was limited to just six points. Adding to Creighton's woes were foul trouble on big men Toby Hegner and Geoffrey Groselle, which opened up the paint for the Friars in the second half.
Here are three things we learned:
1) Providence should stop shooting threes
Providence can't shoot threes. This is a fact, and one that the Friars have struggled to come to grips with despite their season-long struggles. They finished 4-for-24 from outside the arc, and three of those came from Bentil late in the game.
When the Friars work the ball inside, they're actually a pretty good offensive team. Teams flock to double team Bentil and Dunn, opening up driving lanes for the Friars' auxiliary scorers. Lindsey was 5-for-5 inside the arc, but looked hopeless from outside of it.
In fact, every other Friar not named Bentil or Dunn has pretty much looked lost from behind the arc as of late. For Providence to make any sort of run this month, Ed Cooley and the Friars must find ways to get easy baskets inside.
2) Maurice Watson Jr. is invaluable to Creighton
If Watson stayed healthy, the Blue Jays were probably going to win this game. He provided a good counter to Dunn's slashing ability, and set his teammates up for good look after good look. After he hobbled off the court late in the first half, however, Creighton's offense seemed to grind to a halt, one that resulted in a prolonged cold spell midway through the second half.
When Watson is at his best, Creighton is arguably the fourth or fifth-best team in this conference. Without him, Creighton looks lost on offense, and cost themselves a chance to get the upper hand on the conference's fourth seed.
3) One team is in, one team is out (for now)
This was a huge win for the Friars, and an equally huge loss for the Blue Jays. The Friars, currently projected as a 10-seed by Joe Lunardi, could ill afford to slip up in either one of their final two games this week, and should feel a lot better about their spot in the tournament than they did just two hours ago.
As for Creighton, they probably need to win at Xavier on Saturday afternoon to get close to the right side of the bubble. If not, it'll take a deep run at Madison Square Garden next week to get them onto the selection committee's radar. They're not done yet, but a win tonight would have bolstered a resume in dire need of a signature win.