One would think that with a 17-2 record, 7-1 league record, and an AP Top-15 ranking, that the title “must-win” would hardly be the first choice used to label this past Sunday’s matchup between the Providence Friars and the Marquette Golden Eagles. And yet, Sunday afternoon at 12:30, many Friar fans found themselves referring to the game as just that, a must-win.
The visiting Golden Eagles landed in Rhode Island boasting the title of the hottest team in the conference – and rightfully so. The Golden Eagles had won seven-straight games, four of which were over ranked opponents. First-year Marquette Head Coach, Shaka Smart, had his young men playing at an elite level of basketball, and after starting conference play a humble 0-3, the Golden Eagles were certainly opening eyes across the BIG EAST, and the nation.
This turnaround for Smart and his team began, of course, with a 32-point rout over Providence back on January 4th. With their backs against the wall, Marquette came out guns a blazing against the Friars, and handed Ed Cooley’s squad its first conference loss of the season, in devastating fashion. As mentioned, this win for Marquette would kick-start a seven-game winning streak, which would ultimately project the Golden Eagles into the AP Top-25, and back into national relevancy.
Of course, if you thought that Ed Cooley was going to let Shaka Smart’s squad get away with murder without some sort of revenge, then you’ve got another thing coming. This is why Sunday’s matchup was so appropriately coined a must-win game for the Friars. With the national narrative painting the Friars as “lucky,” Ed Cooley and his squad needed more ammunition to not only prove the nay-sayers wrong but add more foundation to what has already been a historic season. Mix in a pre-game skirmish at half court between the home and visiting players during shootaround, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a ball game brewing at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Providence wound up pulling out the win for this one, but Marquette did not go down without a fight. The Golden Eagles led by as many as nine-points in the second half. The Friars, however, were able to surge past this pesky Marquette team, large in part because of the home roars of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd. The Friar Fanatics turned out in record numbers, appropriately sporting beach attire during the so-called “bomb cyclone” winter storm, that poured nineteen inches of snow on Rhode Island and the northeast a day prior. In the post-game presser, Ed Cooley once again accredited the win to the home team fans. Cooley said that ten or eleven points were willed by the crowd alone.
Perhaps the moment that the “Blizzard Beach” crowd won’t forget, is Nate Watson’s and-one dunk, that wound up sealing the game for the Friars. With less than a minute to play, Watson battled for an offensive rebound, then put it back up, and dunked the basketball over not one, not two, but three Marquette defenders, all while drawing the foul. It was a fantastic display of will-power and sheer dominance. Watson led all scorers with 17-points, on a healthy 7-10 shooting, while also pulling down 6 boards. He was joined by Justin Minaya (14), Al Durham (11) and Noah Horchler (11-points, 10-rebounds), who all scored in double figures as well.
Following this win, the Friars now stand alone atop the BIG EAST at 8-1, with an 18-2 overall record. The Friars will return to action on Tuesday night in Queens, against a St. John’s team that’s itching for a win. You can catch that game at 9:00pm on CBS Sports Network.