By Griffin Clark
After a two-game losing skid earlier this month, the Providence Friars found their footing with a third consecutive win on the road Sunday at Villanova. The victory moves PC into a three-way tie for first-place in the Big East, alongside No. 13 Xavier and No. 16 Marquette.
A second half surge propelled the Friars (17-5, 9-2) to a 70-65 victory over a gallant Villanova team in a hostile environment at the Wells Fargo Center. Before today, the Friars had not defeated Villanova on the road since the 2019-20 season. Ed Cooley earned his first win over Kyle Neptune, who was named head coach of the Wildcats when Jay Wright retired this offseason.
Jared Bynum had a statement performance in his second game since returning from a torso injury, which he suffered in their upset victory over UConn on Jan. 4. Despite coming off the bench, Bynum was the catalyst of the Friars’ offense and made several crucial shots late in the game.
“He showed incredible confidence in his teammates and himself,” Cooley said. “We missed him, and it was great to see him hit basket after basket.”
Star senior guard Justin Moore returned to the lineup for Villanova, playing his first game of the season after being sidelined with an Achilles injury. Moore, the team’s second-leading scorer last season, struggled in his return. Moore posted five points in the game and missed all four of his three-point attempts.
After jumping out to an early 11-6 lead, Villanova hit a lull on offense midway through the first half. The Wildcats missed six of seven shots before the 10:43 timeout and surrendered the lead for the first time. With eight minutes until halftime, Alyn Breed located Devin Carter for an emphatic alley-oop slam to put the Friars ahead.
Carter energized the Friars on both sides of the ball. He finished with 12 points, six rebounds, and two steals.
In the closing minutes of the first half, Villanova found a spark on offense and gained a seven-point lead in the wake of a 12-2 run. PC ended the half on a high note and narrowed the gap to three at the break, 31-28.
Each team shot above 40% from the field in the first half, but neither established a rhythm from three-point territory. The Friars shot 0-for-8 from beyond the arc and the Wildcats shot 2-for-10. “At halftime, we had an open and honest conversation with our men,” Cooley said.
PC regained the lead early in the second half, as Cooley stayed reliant on Carter and Ed Croswell for offensive production. Croswell started 7-for-7 from the field and was the first player in double figures. Despite facing foul trouble for most of the game, the Friars’ Bryce Hopkins was a steady contributor as well.
Neither team gained more than a four-point lead in the first eight minutes of the second half. There were 13 lead changes and six ties in the game.
Villanova went up by seven with less than 11 minutes to play, but Bynum responded with a scoring surge. He put together an 8-0 run all by himself, nailing two three-balls and a mid-range floater. PC’s offensive cascade translated into a six-point advantage with four minutes left.
“We encouraged them to keep shooting open [threes],” Cooley said. “In one of the timeouts, we talked about making four or five threes.”
The Friars led by one heading into the final minute. With 25 seconds to play, Cooley fed the hot hand in Bynum, who drained a fadeaway jumper to extend the lead. Bynum led the Friars in scoring with 19 points.
“When I had my shot, I took it,” Bynum said. “I’ve finally been able to get back in the gym and I’m trying to get my rhythm back.”
Moore turned the ball over for Villanova on a potential game-tying possession and then PC iced the game at the free throw line. “This was an incredible team win and character win,” Cooley said. “Our staff did a great job preparing our team emotionally.”
The Friars remain on the road for another challenging road game as they head to Cincinnati to battle No. 13 Xavier on Wednesday night. PC is 4-2 in Big East road games this season.