A.J. Reeves and Noah Horchler chase down a loose rebound at DePaul (Photo: DePaul Athletics)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
That time-honored basketball axiom shined through Saturday night for the Providence College Friars out in the Windy City. PC put the clamps on DePaul and pulled away in the final 10 minutes for a 57-47 win.
PC held DePaul to 23 percent shooting in the second half and 30 percent for the game. The Friars played without coach Ed Cooley who took ill before the game. Assistant coach Jeff Battle took the reigns and was thrilled with his team’s effort.
“Ed just came to me and said he wasn’t feeling well and said ‘you’ve got them tonight,” Battle said. “I just went to our leaders and said ‘guys I’m calling the shots but this is a collaborative effort. We’re in this together. It wasn’t a nervous thing. All I did was sit in coach’s seat tonight. They had a different voice but the guys played hard and earned the win. “
David Duke led PC with 17 points and tied his career-high with 13 rebounds. The Friars (11-10, 7-8) won consecutive games for the first time since late-December and will travel to Storrs, Conn., Tuesday for a monster rematch against Connecticut.
The Friars got word that Cooley wouldn’t be coaching after the coach fell ill once the team arrived at Wintrust Arena. That unsettling news didn’t rattle the players as PC came out solid, especially A.J. Reeves. The junior shooter put up 10 of his team’s first 16 points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting.
The early bugaboo, however, was turnovers. DePaul may have seen the losses pile up once again but the Blue Demons play very hard and own excellent size and athleticism. That combo forced eight first half turnovers, three by Reeves.
Duke, who enjoyed a strong half with 12 points and 8 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 25-20 lead and then a tip-in after two offensive rebounds for a 30-24 lead. That hoop came with 3:45 left on the clock and unfortunately for Providence would be the team’s final bucket of the half.
DePaul crawled to the finish as well Javon Freeman-Liberty’s lane jumper with five seconds left in the half sent the teams into the locker room with PC up by a narrow 30-28 count.
The Friars received a welcome boost when Jared Bynum entered the game early in the second half. Bynum had missed the previous nine and a half games with a bad groin strain, a stretch where PC sunk to a 3-7 record. The point guard didn’t have much of an impact as PC’s offense struggled early in the half, but he did help an excellent defensive effort.
DePaul opened the half making just three of its first 14 shots to fall behind 44-36. The problem was Nate Watson picked up his third and fourth fouls during the stretch and went to the bench with 12:50 left.
The Friar defense never let up, however. DePaul continued to treat the ball like it stunk (turnovers) and missed shots both inside and out. The Blue Demons managed just four field goals in the first 16 minutes of the second half.
DePaul trailed 44-39 when PC put together a decisive spurt. The 11-3 punch ended with Watson’s first hoop of the game with just inside the four minute mark for a 55-42 lead that held up with no problems. DePaul played without lead guard Charlie Moore who is nursing a knee injury.
Battle said this was the first game he’s served as a head coach since the late 1980’s at Ceasar Rodney High in Dover, Del. “That’s a long, long time ago,” said the former assistant at Wake Forest, Xavier, Loyola (Md.) and Delaware State.
The Friars have held two straight opponents under 60 points, a marked improvement on the defensive end. The 47 DePaul points were the fewest points allowed by PC in a Big East game since a 50-48 road win at Creighton in 2015-16.
“We’ve really been putting in a lot of time on it,” Battle said. “Tonight guys did a great job keeping the ball in front (of them). Much better individual defense. That was the game plan. I thought the guys really bought into the game plan.”
David Duke – 17 points, 13 rebounds
A.J. Reeves – 13 points
Defense – PC held DePaul to 30 percent shooting.
Battle said he feels the players are buying into what the coaching staff is preaching, specifically on the defensive end. That PC could win a Big East road game – even against last place DePaul – with Nate Watson scoring two field goals and the team shooting just 35 percent says a lot.