David Duke poured in 30 points at Xavier Sunday.
By KEVIN McNAMARA
Heartbreak in the Queen City.
After putting themselves in position to record a critical victory, the Providence Friars let a big game slip through their fingers Sunday at the Cintas Center.
Leading 73-66 with 1:13 left, PC watched Xavier score eight straight points and steal a 74-73 victory. Two critical turnovers opened the door and freshman Colby Jones drained a dagger 3-pointer with less than one second left for the victory.
“I’m speechless in these situations here,” said a stunned PC coach Ed Cooley. “We have to refocus. Life in the Big East. I thought we had some good execution in the last four minutes. I think we were down five and ended up taking a seven point lead. But turnovers and threes (allowed). Very, very, very disappointed, hurt. I have to do a better job with my group with under a minute to play. That’s on me, not on them.”
David Duke was fantastic once again with 30 points and Nate Watson totaled 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Friars. PC drops to 7-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big East. Xavier moves to 10-2 and 3-2.
Coming on the heels of a last-second loss to Creighton, the Friars have to be shaking their heads as they head to Milwaukee to face Marquette on Tuesday. If things had gone a bit different in the final two seconds of the last two games, they could be 9-3 overall, 5-1 in the Big East and looking at a spot in the Top 25.
“We covered their first three options,” Cooley said of the fateful final Xavier shot. “Then it’s just a scramble play. Give them the credit, they made the right read. Think about it – there was less 0.1 seconds left. I don’t think any coach in the world is drawing that up with 16 seconds left. It just was what it was.”
The Friars played without starting point guard Jared Bynum (groin injury) and juggled how to initiate offense and limit turnovers (15) all day. The best weapon in that department was the offense of Duke, who began hot and never really slowed down.
Duke’s early shooting staked the Friars to a 18-14 lead with Duke scoring 11. Without Bynum the Friars needed other players to create offense. Jimmy Nichols took part, finding Nate Watson for a first half slam.
But PC’s offense hit a skid and Xavier grabbed control. The result was a 15-3 run that gave the home team a 29-21 lead at the 6:36 mark. Freshman C.J. Wilcher came into the game with just a single 3-pointer but nailed two treys in the run.
Just as quickly the Friars turned the tables, as A.J. Reeves nailed two 3-pointer and when Watson and Duke scored inside, the Friars grabbed a 34-33 lead. Xavier’s Paul Scruggs scored the last hoop of the half to give the Musketeers a 35-34 halftime lead.
The Friars maintained control through a large chunk of the second half as the offense continually found Watson. The big man scored eight of PC’s 10 points in one stretch as PC grabbed a 56-53 lead.
PC last led 59-57 when Xavier grabbed control. The resulting 7-0 spurt gave the home team a 64-59 lead with 4:12 left.
The Friars wouldn’t fold, however. A string of 3-pointers – 5 of 6 field goals – catapulted PC into the lead. The final one from Noah Horchler gave PC a 73-66 lead with 1:13 left.
Xavier scored the next five with Nate Johnson draining a deep three and then Alyn Breed being called for a travel despite heavy pressure from Adam Kunkel. A Zack Freemantle hoop made it 73-71. With 18 seconds left, and just five on the shot clock, Providence inbounded the ball but couldn’t find room and Jimmy Nichols stepped out of bounds.
With a chance to win or tie at the other end, Xavier patiently moved the ball and Jones came up big with the monster 3-pointer.
David Duke – 30 points, 7-of-9 3-pointers, 6 assists.
Nate Watson – 17 points, 14 rebounds, 4th double-double of season.
Zack Freemantle – 17 points.
UP NEXT: At Marquette Tuesday.