A.J. Reeves makes a shot in 1st half of Villanova game (AP Photo: Stew Milne)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
Instead of a disastrous meltdown, the Providence Friars are taking a vital victory with them as they pack for the Big East Tournament.
After losing a 20-point first half lead, then fighting to regain control after a major collapse, the Friars were looking at a tie game with just seconds left. That’s when it was time to make a winning play.
The key was an offensive rebound. Was it Nate Watson, or was it David Duke? Doesn’t matter, it was a team effort play and ultimately the winning one in a 54-52 victory over a depleted Villanova team.
Duke was awarded the winning tip-in, and in the end no one seemed to care. Duke and Watson led the Friars with 20 points apiece and assured PC (13-12) of at least a .500 record. Jermaine Samuels (21 points) led Villanova (16-5) which out-scored PC 31-16 in the second half.
A 20-point first half lead that sat at 38-21 at the half wasn’t nearly enough for the Friars as the No. 10 Wildcats played with great ferocity in the second half even though both Colin Gillespie (season-ending knee injury) and Justin Moore (ankle) were not available. Those two guards are the ‘Cats second and third-leading scorers.
Villanova came out with a totally different defensive mindset after halftime and the Friars froze. The result was waves of awful shot selection where PC settled for 3-pointers and didn’t work hard enough to find openings. Providence made just three of its first 23 shots in the second half.
A Watson hoop gave PC a 49-42 lead with 4:47 left but Samuels was ready to counter. After a Brandon Slater 3-pointer, Samuels hit a free throw and then two driving layups that gave ‘Nova a 50-49 lead with 2:22 left.
Duke worked his way to the foul line to stop PC’s scoreless skid and then the star guard stepped up with a big-time floater in the lane to give PC the lead again, 52-50, with 1:09 left.
Brandon Slater was fouled driving the ball at the other end but he missed two freebies with 35 seconds left. PC’s Watson was quickly fouled and he went to the line with 31 seconds left but he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Samuels worked his way past the Friars with 15 seconds left and was fouled. He stepped up and sank two clutch free throws to tie the game, 52-52.
Cooley chose not to call a timeout and got Jared Bynum driving the ball but missing a 10-footer. Duke and Watson crashed the glass with Duke tipping in the winner.
Villanova had a final chance with 2.8 seconds and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl shook free after a long pass for a pretty clear look that missed.
“I was praying to God he wouldn’t make it,” Watson said.
Cooley’s take on the Great Escape: “The way this year is going I was thinking `just don’t go in!’ Divine Providence at its best. I was nervous, trust me.”
Nate Watson – 20 points
David Duke – 20 points, 7 rebounds
Jermaine Samuels – 21 points