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Friars survive Villanova’s second-half push

Nate Watson’s crucial bucket helped bring the Cats down.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

For Friars fans, Saturday afternoon seemed to be a repeat of Wednesday night at St. John’s. After running up an eleven-point lead in the first half, Providence saw that lead crumble in the second half. The Friars gave up 51 second half points en route to an 81-67 loss.

Once again, Providence got off to a hot start. After Villanova made the game’s first basket, the Friars made the next five. Noah Horchler got things started with a dunk, and then David Duke and Nate Watson each made two shots of their own. Down 11-2 early, Villanova’s offense was sputtering without Collin Gillespie.

Duke and Watson would lead the way for the Friars, combining for 25 of the team’s 38 points in the first half. Providence shot 62 percent from the field and hit four of 11 from beyond the arc. As efficient as their offense was, their defense was equally as problematic. Villanova managed just six made field goals in the period. Ed Cooley defenses have stifled the Wildcats early in recent history, holding them to 24 points in the opening frame earlier this season and just 18 points in their second meeting last season. Saturday continued the trend, as Villanova scored only 21 points in the first half.

To make things worse, the Wildcats lost Justin Moore to an ankle injury early. Down Gillespie and Moore, Jay Wright was relying on Caleb Dixon, Bryan Antoine, and Chris Arcidiacono to run the offense.

Like Wednesday night, the halftime break brought a change in momentum against the Friars. Villanova scored the first 11 points to open the second half, cutting the deficit to six. The Friars responded with a 9-4 run of their own, but Villanova wasn’t backing down. Jermaine Samuels caught fire, scoring nine points on a 14-2 run. With 2:22 to play, his layup put the Wildcats ahead 50-49. It was their first lead since the score was 2-0.

David Duke hit a free throw to even the score at 50 with 2:04 remaining. Less than a minute later, he hit a jump shot to put Providence ahead, 52-50.

Jermaine Samuels hit two shots from the free throw line with 15 seconds remaining. The score was knotted at 52. Once up by 20 points, the Friars now needed a basket to stop the game from heading to overtime.

Jared Bynum cut the basket, stepped back, and put up the jump shot. It came up short off the front rim. The outstretched hands of David Duke and Nate Watson awaited the rebound and guided the ball back towards the basket. The ball bounced off the glass and fell through the netting. With 2.8 seconds remaining, Providence was back in the lead.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl caught the heave from Eric Dixon and fired a wide open 3-pointer to give Villanova the win. It went wide. The put-back fell, but time had expired. Providence escaped with the win, 54-52, over the top team in the Big East.

David Duke and Nate Watson each scored 20 points for Providence. The pair combined to score more than 48 percent of the team’s points on the season. Noah Horchler had his first double-double in Providence, scoring 10 points with 13 rebounds. The Friars finished the regular season 13-12 overall and 9-10 in Big East play.

Jermaine Samuels led all scorers with 21 points. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had his third consecutive double-double and sixth on the season with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Villanova ended the season 16-5 overall and 11-4 in Big East play on the way to finishing first place in the conference.