David Duke and the Friars were in total control vs. Butler. (Photo: Stew Milne)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
An effort like this has been building for David Duke and the Providence Friars.
Way back in September, Ed Cooley was quietly whispering to pals that he was amazed at the improvement of Duke. Stronger, more confident, better shooting stroke.
When the All-America and All-Big East teams came out in October, Cooley scoffed at Duke not being included among the country’s very best. Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski and Villanova’s Colin Gillespie deserved praise but Cooley would only say “I’ll take my guy.””
Well his guy – Duke – is killing it right now. After several strong efforts, the junior from nearby Elmhust exploded in a 71-55 victory over Butler Tuesday at Alumni Hall. Duke made a great run at posting PC’s first triple double since Kris Dunn (2016) as he racked up 22 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists in 39 minutes.
The win was an important one for the Friars, who improved to 7-3 overall and 3-1 in the Big East heading into a major test Saturday vs. nationally ranked Creighton.
Butler (2-4, 1-2) beat Providence 70-64 last week in Indianapolis but this was a very different ball game.
“College basketball is about experience and I’m a junior, I have a lot of game experience and the game is slowing down for me,” Duke said. “Coach (Cooley) says you can move fast but think slow on the court.”
The opening half unfolded as smoothly as the Friars could have dreamed on the way to a 35-18 lead. Not only was the offense perfect through a 8-of-8 start and 20-11 lead. but the defense squeezed the Bulldogs tightly. After Butler closed to 20-15 against a decent chunk of PC’s reserves, the Friars went back to their stars and put down the hammer.
The key was Duke. If he wasn’t stepping back for an unfair long jumper, he was ripping down rebound and looking like ex-All-American Dunn in end-to-end forays to the hoop.
PC ended the half on a 15-3 run for a 35-18 lead. Duke made his first seven shots and finished the half 7-of-8 for 17 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Friars went up 57-37 with 8:44 left, took the foot off the gas pedal a bit as Butler closed to 62-51 but could get no closer.
“David’s been doing this,” Cooley said. “I don’t know what he’s averaging the last five or six games but he’s been as efficient as anyone in the country. He’s playing under-the-radar for what all the national basketball pundits think good basketball players are…He’s putting the time in to do what he’s doing.”
Asked if he finds himself admiring Duke’s blossoming skills, Cooley said “the game is getting really slow to him and that’s when players become elite. I’m a coach who preaches aggression and attack and he’s in that attack mode like there’s no tomorrow.”
At 3-1 in the Big East the Friars now step up in class and face No. 11 Creighton next.
“I think right now we’re in a good position but we’re definitely taking it game-by-game,” Duke said. “It’s a great opportunity with a top 10 team coming in here at home. It’s a big opportunity but you have to treat it the same as any other game. The mission is to win.”
David Duke – 22 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, 39 minutes
Nate Watson – 18 points, 6 rebounds
A.J. Reeves – 12 points on four 3-pointers
Jared Bynum- 12 points, 6 assists, 1 turnover, 36 minutes
*After letting a first crack at beating a young Butler team playing without lead guard Aaron Thompson slip away last week, Ed Cooley had a pretty simple message to his team: Don’t get swept.
“We talked about if we’re fortunate enough to get through the season and not get paused becaus eof the pandemic you do everything you can not to get swept.
You never want to be swept. We also talked about development. Where are we at from a week ago against this team?”
*Cooley made a starting five switch with Jimmy Nichols getting the nod at forward. Noah Horchler and Greg Gantt have also started in the spot opposite Nate Watson inside. Nichols picked up two early fouls and wasn’t much of a factor in the opening half. The trio only combined for seven points and five rebounds.
*Butler’s impressive freshman class totaled 38 points in last week’s home win over the Friars. Tonight the group racked up 24 points with Chuck Harris leading with 10. The highest rated of the five-player class, forward Scooby Johnson of Michigan, is injured and lost for the season.
*David Duke made a push to join Kris Dunn as the only Friar to ever record a triple double in a Big East game. Dunn totaled 27 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists against DePaul on Jan. 29, 2015.
NEXT UP: No. 11 Creighton, Saturday at Noon.
PC (71): Duke 9 2-3 22, Watson 9 0-0 18, Reeves 4 0-0 12, Bynum 3 6-6 12, Nichols Jr. 2 1-1 5, Gantt 1 0-2 2, Horchler 0 0-0 0, Croswell 0 0-0 0; totals – 28 9-12 71.
BUTLER (55): Bolden 4 3-4 15, Harris 3 3-4 10, Nze 5 0-2 10, Tate 5 0-2 10, Golden 3 0-0 6, Coles 3 0-0 6, Wilmoth 0 0-0 0, Hastings 0 0-0 0, Mulloy 0 0-0 0; totals -21 6-10 55.
Halftime – PC, 35-18. 3-pt. goals – BU 7 (Bolden 4, Harris, Tate 2); PC 6 (Duke 2, Reeves 4).