When the Providence Friars (3-0) defeated Fairfield in the opener, their inability to separate in the second half left doubts about their ability to finish against a power conference team. With a win at the Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) Monday night, Providence showed they could keep their opponent at bay, even with an imperfect performance.
Like against Fairfield, the Friars never trailed in the second half. An 8-0 Wisconsin run capped by a Tyler Wahl layup with under four minutes to play brought the Badgers within five points, but Al Durham, the Indiana transfer, hit the dagger three-pointer against his former conference rival to push the lead back to eight. Durham and sophomore Alyn Breed combined to hit five free throws in the final thirty seconds to seal the victory.
Al Durham may have ended the game, but it was center Nate Watson that dominated most of it. The Friars outscored Wisconsin 24-10 over the last ten minutes of the first half, and Watson beat the Badgers all on his own with 11 points. Greg Gard’s defense had no answer for the big man, who scored 24 points on 11-15 shooting. It was Watson’s jumper that gave Providence a 19-18 lead in the first half, a lead they would never relinquish.
This was the first Big Ten win for Providence since defeating Illinois at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in 2015. The Friars are 3-0 to open a season for the first time since then. Along with Watson, Durham added 13 points and A.J. Reeves scored 11 with 8 rebounds and no turnovers. Jared Bynum led all Friars with 9 rebounds and 8 assists.
Wisconsin may have been without standout sophomore Jonathan Davis, but guard Brad Davison scored 25 points and led all scorers in his 127th career start. Tyler Wahl added a career-high 16 points for the Badgers.
The Big East advanced to 2-0 in the Gavitt Tipoff Games after Marquette defeated Illinois earlier in the night.
Providence plays next against New Hampshire on Thursday night.