PC’s Nate Watson snips the net after Friars win Big East regular season crown
By KEVIN McNAMARA
It took 11 seasons but Ed Cooley’s promise has come true.
Back in March of 2011 the Providence native came home as Providence’s basketball coach and talked big. Make that very big. You remember, Cooley vowing to set the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on fire.
“Not only do I believe we’re going to win here, but we’re going to win and we’re going to win big,” Cooley promised.
Well, look at what’s happened. The Providence Friars are now the champions of the Big East here in 2022, for the first time ever. History unfolded at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Saturday as a festive, hoop party broke out with the Friars easily running past Creighton, 72-51.
By the time the buzzer sounded, the old joint was hopping. The students stormed the court, the players bounced up and down amid the throng and the crowd marveled at the sight.
A few minutes later, the Friars were cutting the nets down.
The Friars have really only been in position to win a Big East regular season title once, back in 2001. That group fell short. This one wouldn’t let that happen.
The Friars shot out to an early lead and as Cooley said “this game was over when the ball went up. A lot of emotion in there.’
The player who lit the spark was A.J. Reeves, the senior from Roxbury who began his career four years ago by firing in seven 3-pointers and scoring 29 points. Those would stand as his career highs for the next four years. On this night Reeves equaled his 3-point total, knocking down seven treys and finishing with 23 points. Nate Watson and Al Durham added 12 points each as the Friars ran past the Bluejays.
Providence is now 24-3 overall and 14-2 in the Big East, two games ahead of Villanova (14-4) with just one game to play.
That Reeves would be the star on championship night is certainly apropos. He came to Providence dreaming of using the local school as a springboard to the NBA. That may not happen but the winning that he also dreamed of is now unfolding before his eyes. Reeves and Watson are the anchors who came to PC out of high school, two Top 100 recruits who were difficult to sign and who helped attract more talent. Over the last three years the Friars have won plenty of games but nothing like this. While the players vowed they predicted big success, no one with a straight face could’ve pegged 24-3 and a Big East title.
Of course college basketball has three distinct seasons. The Friars have conquered the regular season, for the first time in the 43 years of Big East play. But bigger prizes await.
The Big East Tournament actually is not a bigger prize. The Friars have two of those, back in 1994 and in 2014. They were followed by first round exits from the NCAA Tournament, losses that put a major damper on those runs.
This run has certainly raised the bar. Who knows what happens at Madison Square Garden but these Friars will earn the highest seed in program history and that promotes expectations of an extended NCAA run. Fans of a program that’s won just one NCAA tourney game since 1997 are eager, ready and waiting to keep winning big.
If you haven’t figured it out by now Nate Watson is definitely the team’s Clown, in a good way. He’s quick with a smile, truly the Giant on campus and is living any college hoop player’s dream. While Cooley says he’s ‘more of a Barry White/Luther Vandross man’ Watson says he knows Swift’s songs and insists he’s mentioned in the `Wildest Dreams’ song.