After 611 days away from the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, the Big East’s Providence Friars returned to action in front of fans. Fairfield seemed intent on spoiling this homecoming for the Friars.
Like last season’s opener, Fairfield kept things close for most of the first half. After Providence raced out to a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes, the Stags answered with three consecutive 3-pointers to take the lead. They would hit their first four shots from deep.
For most of the first half, both teams traded baskets. After Jake Wocik’s 3-pointer brought Fairfield within one point just over two minutes into the game, neither team would lead by more than one possession until Nate Watson’s layup put Providence up 32-28 with less than four minutes remaining before halftime.
Providence owned the final four minutes before the break, outscoring Fairfield 12-7 over that span. Five different Friars scored during that time, led by four points from Jared Bynum. Al Durham’s jump shot with under a minute to play put Providence ahead 42-35 at the half.
A scrum as the teams headed for the locker rooms led to a technical foul on Supreme Cook, and A.J. Reeves opened the second period with two shots from the line as a result. Reeves sunk both, and Noah Horchler added a 3-pointer seconds later to give the Friars a 12-point advantage.
While Providence never trailed in the second half, the Stags would not go away. Horchler’s shot was answered by an 8-3 Fairfield run. Minutes later, Zach Crisler and freshman TJ Long would hit back-to-back shots from deep to pull Fairfield within one. A.J. Reeves and TJ Long would then trade and ones, and Providence led 57-56 with under twelve minutes to play. That’s as close as Fairfield would get.
The Friars outscored Fairfield 23-17 from that point on. Al Durham scored nine points, all from the free-throw line, over that stretch. Nate Watson, Providence’s leading scorer on the day, added seven points. Ed Cooley’s squad took the season opener against his former team by a final score of 80-73. It was their second consecutive win over Fairfield to open a season.
Providence finished with four scorers in double figures, led by Nate Watson with 22 points. Watson (or should we say Swat-son) also added four blocks, tying his career-high, and six rebounds. Indiana transfer Al Durham scored 18 points in his first game for Ed Cooley. Noah Horchler gave the Friars their first double-double of the year with 10 points and 11 rebounds. A.J. Reeves tallied 13 points and went 6-7 from the charity stripe. Jared Bynum led Providence with four assists and two steals while adding eight points of his own.
The Friars have a quick turnaround, as they host Sacred Heart Thursday night at 6:30 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. That game can be found on FS1.