PC defense swarming Davidson in 1st half action. (Photo courtesy Brian Spurlock/Camping World Maui Invitational
By KEVIN McNAMARA
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – It may have only been by the thinnest of margins but the Providence Friars found a way to win a key game Tuesday night at the Maui Invitational.
After watching a 19-point lead melt to only one, Providence hung on for a 63-62 win over Davidson. The Wildcats’ Hyunjung Lee missed a driving layup with three seconds left. A.J. Reeves rebounded the miss and after missing the front end of a one-and-one, a final attempt by Davidson’s Sam Mennenga missed at the buzzer.
After getting knocked around in the tourney opener by Indiana, the Friars (2-1) are happy to move into the fifth place game Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“We came out with a purpose, no question,” said PC coach Ed Cooley. “We just couldn’t sustain it. I thought we got tired.”
PC led 15-2 out of the gate as the offense clicked and defense shut down Davidson. Nate Watson (10), David Duke (9) and Jared Bynum (8) were all active in the first half.
PC’s lead peaked at 27-8 at the 8:23 mark but that’s when Davidson finally woke up. The Wildcats started hitting shots, grabbing offensive rebounds and, most importantly, getting some defensive stops. The Friars led 33-17 but were out-scored 14-2 the rest of the half.
PC’s 35-31 halftime lead stayed intact but not without several serious pushes early in the second half when Davidson cut the lead to only one point. Watson kept the Friar offense rolling and when he scored his 20th point at the 7:20 mark PC was up, 57-51.
“Every morning, every night, I go on the shooting gun and shoot as many as I can,” Watson said of his developing shooting touch.
But that’s when the offense hit the skids. PC didn’t score for the next 3:30 and Davidson closed to 57-55. PC snapped out of a 1-of-12 skid with a Noah Horchler rebound of a Duke miss.
Watson scored inside to make it 61-57 but Lee followed to make it a two point game. PC had two shots miss and then dodged a bullet when All-America candidate Kellan Grady made just one of two free throws with 1:23 left. After Duke chased down a Horchler miss, Cooley called a set (“a complete Iso,” Cooley said) where Jared Bynum snuck into the lane and got all the way to the rim for a tough layup with 41 seconds left for a 63-60 lead.
Davidson’s Grady made a tough runner with 34 seconds left to make it 63-62. Bynum missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 17 seconds left opening the door for the Wildcats.
Davidson had two shots in the final seconds of a 78-76 loss to Texas on Monday. This time they had another, but Lee’s driving layup rolled off the rim with three seconds left.
“We’ve done everything but put the ball in the basket,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “We’ll move forward and understand that we’re getting better.”
Cooley was clearly relieved that his team was able to hang on and grab a victory.
“I’m just really, really excited about the win,” he said. “You know what, coming off of our performance yesterday, you got to be proud of our young men today. We could have easily tanked it there (at the end).”
Nate Watson – PC’s big man was dominant throughout and finished with 22 points.
David Duke – Battled foul trouble yet again but came up with 13 points
Kellan Grady – The Wooden Award nominee was held to 17 points.
Hyunjung Lee – Shooter finished with 17 points and three 3-pointers.
*The Friars could not have started the game any better. Some stout defense and aggressive offense combined to spark a 15-2 start. Davidson started 0-of-5 shooting and looked shook.
PC’s lead grew to 27-8 after a David Duke 3-pointer and Jared Bynum layup at the 8:23 mark.
But the rest of the half was all Davidson. The Wildcats started making shots, hitting the offensive boards and forcing some PC misses. The Friars ended the half on a 0-of-9 skid over the final 5:52.
*A key call was a technical slapped on Ed Cooley by Tony Crisp at the 5:11 mark. Nate Watson had just missed inside under heavy coverage and Cooley was begging for a foul. When he didn’t clam up, Crisp T’d him up. Two Davidson freebies were the middle points in a 10-0 Davidson run.
“My technical foul changed the game,” Cooley said. “It changed the whole flow of the game.”
*The Maui Invitational is ESPN’s marquee tournament and while it’s being played in Asheville and not Hawaii, the event is extremely well run and the teams are put through strict COVID testing protocol. Texas will take on North Carolina for the championship Wednesday.
“I think this tournament is the best tournament in all of America,” Cooley said. “It’s the only tournament that has stayed true to what we try to do (with testing). The teams were healthy. So you got to give the tournament committee a lot of credit for getting us here, having it well organized, having testing every day. Many of the other tournaments folded, and I just wanted to make sure I said that because they deserve a lot of credit in what they’re doing for our players here and the coaches, and the referees who are important.”
*Providence’s David Duke and A.J. Reeves starred for the Mass Rivals while Davidson’s Kellan Grady (a Boston native) did the same for the New England Playaz on the AAU circuit. The two programs didn’t face one another very often.
*Cooley praised the system that McKillop has run with great success at Davidson for many years. Preparing for such a poised offensive team is not easy but the Friars held the Wildcats down early and to 40 percent shooting on the night.
“I thought this was one of the more tougher preps in a two-hour period that we had with our guys, or three-hour prep for a team that’s system-based. Very, very well coached. Very physical team,” Cooley said. “They are going to be a brutal game in their league. Give them credit. Coach McKillop is one of the best coaches in the country. They run great stuff. They’re brutal to prepare for. I’m just glad we’re fortunate to win by a point.”
NEXT UP: PC vs. Alabama/UNLV winner in 5th Place game, 7 p.m. Wednesday.