“Just. Keep. Winning.”
That’s the mantra right now for Ed Cooley and the Providence Friars, who just notched their 21st win of the season, and 11th in BIG EAST play, beating the DePaul Blue Demons last night in an overtime thriller. And, my goodness, was that definitely a thriller.
Last night’s contest saw the Friars trail by as many as 13-points to the Blue Demons, the residential basement dwellers of the conference. Yes, you read that correctly, THIRTEEN points was DePaul’s lead on the Friars – in front of a sold-out Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd, mind you. At lot of credit has to be given to first-year DePaul Head Coach, Tony Stubblefield, for what he is doing with this DePaul squad.
The Blue Demons may be 3-10 in conference play, but two of those three wins come against ranked opponents – the first being back in mid-January over then-ranked 20th Seton Hall, and the second being last weekend on the road against 21st ranked Xavier. The Blue Demons also surged past Georgetown by the means of a 26-to-0 run, prior to coming to Rhode Island to visit the Friars. Not to mention, DePaul has been without leading-scorer, Jahvon Freeman-Liberty for the past 9-games.
As I said, a lot of credit has to be given to Coach Stubblefield and the progress that he has made with his DePaul team this year. But, with that said, if you thought that this young DePaul squad was going to come into a sold-out Dunkin’ Donuts Center and successfully knock off the 11th ranked Friars, by the means of a rout, then you’ve got another thing coming.
By no means was this the prettiest win for the Friars. Nor was it the most efficient (sorry, KenPom lovers), but a win is a win. And for Ed Cooley and his Friars, the mantra this season is “Just Keep Winning.” And that is exactly what this tenured squad did last night.
The biggest storyline of this one is the play of junior point guard, Jared Bynum. Last night’s game saw Bynum drop 25-points on a healthy 8-for-15 shooting, while going 50% from deep. This high-level scoring production is nothing new for Bynum. In fact, the last three outings have seen Bynum average 25-points per game on 63% shooting from the field (24-for-38) and 71% shooting from beyond the arc (15-for-21). I’m not much of a numbers guy, but that seems pretty damn good to me.
This elite-level scoring from Bynum isn’t the only trend that was on display for the Friars last night, however, as the team also saw familiar performances from Al Durham and Nate Watson.
Late in the second half, when the Friars enter the bonus, someone, somewhere in Providence lights the bat-signal, and out comes the closer, Al Durham. You may think I’m joking, but quite literally, that is what happened last night (okay, maybe minus the bat-signal). But alongside Bynum’s hot-shooting, Durham’s composure and consistency in late game situations, especially when he’s at the free throw line, has been another staple trend to the Friars’ success as of late. Durham went a perfect 12-for-12 from the stripe last night, en route to a 16-point performance. Durham did all of this, while nursing an injury. In the post-game presser, Ed Cooley commented that Durham has been nursing an injury for the past two weeks… talk about onions from the fifth-year graduate transfer.
Speaking of onions, Nate Watson left his mark on the game as well last night, putting up 16-points and 7-rebounds on 50% shooting from the floor. As we’ve seen all season, Watson continues to overwhelm opposing big-men, and last night was no exception. DePaul’s Nick Ongenda was tasked with the defensive assignment against Watson, and he surely attempted to use his 6’11”, 210lb frame to unsuccessfully slow down Watson, all while fouling out in the process. In a matchup like that one, I’ll take Watson each time, thank you.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the well-lubricated Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd last night. I mean wow. The building was sold out, with 13,000 fans, for a game against the team that sits at 10th in the conference. That speaks volumes to the culture that has been built around this Providence Friars basketball program. The hometown fans and home court advantage continue to serve undoubtedly as the intangible 6-man for this Friar’s team. Ed Cooley, once again, sang his praises for the fans in the post-game presser, saying that they picked the team up when they were “dead in the water.” It will be very exciting to see (and for me, be a part of) the turnout for next Tuesday’s matchup against 15th ranked Villanova.
The 11th ranked Friars will return to action on Tuesday, February 15th to host the 15th ranked Villanova Wildcats, in a matchup between the BIG EAST’s two top teams. You can catch that game at 8:30PM on FS1 or the FOX Sports App.