The party started hours before tip-off at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Saturday night as students flooded the student sections hoping to see their Providence Friars win their first regular season Big East title in program history. The celebration lasted through a court-storming and trophy ceremony as the Friars defeated the Bluejays 72-51.
The Providence Friars (24-3, 14-2) had to go through the upstart Creighton Bluejays (19-9, 11-6) to hoist the trophy on Saturday. The Bluejays, relying on two freshmen in the starting lineup, looked overwhelmed by the Providence defense.
Seniors Justin Minaya and Noah Horchler held down the Friars’ defense all night long. The pair combined for 20 rebounds - 11 from Minaya, 9 from Horchler - and slowed down Creighton’s best scorers. Horchler recorded one block, although it felt like he had two or three of them, and Minaya latched on to Ryan Hawkins for most of the game. Hawkins scored 10 points, his lowest total since early February.
While the defense stifled Creighton’s offense, holding the Bluejays to one of their lowest point totals of the season, A.J. Reeves was on fire at the other end of the court. Reeves celebrating senior night, knocked down seven three-pointers and led all scorers with 23 points. The seven deep makes tied a career-high for Reeves, one set in his very first college game.
When it wasn’t Reeves doing the scoring, fellow seniors Nate Watson and Al Durham were pitching in. They each scored 12 points, combining to shoot 11-of-24 from the field. Watson found success against one of the best paint defenses in the conference and added five rebounds as well. Durham, playing through a sports hernia, had five assists and two steals in addition to his 12 points.
The sixth Providence senior, walk-on Andrew Fonts, recorded a field goal in the final minutes as the crowd roared.
The Friars led by double-figures for the last 18:49 after Minaya knocked down a three from the corner. After four straight games that came down to the wire, including a triple-overtime marathon against Xavier this week, the comfortable victory was a relief for Providence fans and players. Forward Ed Croswell looked toward the student section, decked out in “lucky” green, and pointed towards his ring finger. Up by 15 with less than a quarter of the game remaining, all 12,400 fans knew that a championship was within reach.
Minutes later, those fans rushed the court to celebrate.
The Friars cap the regular season Tuesday night at Villanova. Creighton returns to action Wednesday night against UConn.