Jared Bynum has turned into a Big East star over the last month
By KEVIN FARRAHAR
The last time Providence College welcomed DePaul to the Dunkin Donuts Center, the Friars and their fans broke out into an on-court celebration as the home team rolled to a 93-55 blowout victory.
With that win in March of 2020, Ed Cooley’s group closed the regular season with more momentum heading into the Big East and NCAA Tournaments than any of his previous Friar squads. PC won eight of its final ten games, including six in a row and five against Top 25 teams. A Providence team stocked with five seniors and a core of emerging underclassmen seemed primed to do damage in March.
We all know what happened next. The rising specter of something called the coronavirus sat on the end of the Friar bench that night, but only a few days later a full-blown pandemic had pulled the plug on the Friars, all sports and life in general. Friartown was left to wonder when this type of opportunity heading into March would ever present itself again.
Nearly two years later, we have our answer.
This time the challenge put forth by DePaul was as stiff as possible. The Blue Demons let a 13-point second half lead slip away, battled back to force overtime but ultimately fell short as the Friars sent the 12,800 fans home drained and happy after a 76-73 win. Now Cooley is once again leading one of the hottest teams in the country – only this time it is a group that has played at a high level throughout the duration of the season. PC is off to its best start ever as a Big East program: 21-2 overall and 11-1 in a conference that currently features five nationally ranked teams and eight clubs with NET rankings in the top 100 (DePaul came into Saturday’s game just outside of the top 100 at #103).
The first half ended with PC trailing 28-24 and clearly in a funk. Then things turned from bad to worse coming out of the locker room, as DePaul ripped off an 11-2 run sparked by a perfect 5-of-5 shooting start to the second half. That run pushed the Blue Demons ahead, 39-26.
But that’s when Jared Bynum went to work. In a span of roughly seven minutes, the PC point guard went off for 14 points including a trio of 3-pointers. He added assists on an Ed Croswell dunk and Alyn Breed three to get PC to within 49-47 with 9:37 to go. DePaul, which only a week ago beat No. 21 Xavier, wasn’t rattled but the game was on.
Bynum would finish with a game-high 25 points, six assists and seven rebounds. Every piece of his effort proved vital as one of the great turnarounds in recent Friar history continued for a player who struggled badly a season ago.
“We sat here a year ago via Zoom, and everybody was down on Jared – (they) didn’t trust that kids develop. (They) didn’t trust that everybody was struggling through a pandemic year,” Cooley said. “I’m proud of Jared because he’s making a believer of himself, first and foremost, and he’s making a lot of people look dumb.”
“Never, ever, ever underestimate somebody’s development, their mindset, their internal just want,” Cooley emphasized.
DePaul still led 58-54 with 2:33 left but Closer Al Durham (12-of-12 FT’s) made two from the line to make it a two-point game. DePaul missed at the other end and then Durham lofted a perfect pass to Nate Watson for a slam and 58-58 tie with 1:34 left. Watson then grabbed a miss, got fouled, and swished two free throws for the lead with :41 left. DePaul forced overtime when Nick Ongenda hit a shot over Watson with :20 left.
The Friars had a chance to win in regulation but didn’t execute. Bynum was left over-dribbling at the top of the key and his last-second deep jumper drew nothing.
That just sent up an overtime period where the Friars made all the right moves. Providence never trailed, but also never breathed easy. DePaul twice got to within a point in the final 20 seconds of the game, but Durham continued his free throw line heroics by sinking four at the stripe on PC’s final two possessions.
Cooley called this one “a great team win. I’m just proud, really proud. And exhausted.”
What a month it’s been for Bynum. He knocked down a last-second three pointer at
Xavier on Jan. 26 to give Providence its fourth straight win, and has followed that up with a 19 point effort
at St. John’s, then by scoring 27 of his 32 points in the second half against Georgetown, and most
recently came this monster night back home against DePaul.
Cooley praised Bynum for his unselfishness, and commented on how he approached the coaching staff
and offered to continue to come off of the bench, despite his stellar play. As for Bynum’s output now, Cooley remarked, “He’s doing it at an elite level, not a good level, elite level.”
But maybe the best snapshot of the Friars’ current standing came when Bynum praised his coach, saying “he never stopped believing in me when I was going through some tough times, or the injuries, or bad
games…Once he tells you he loves you and trusts you and believes in you, he really means it. I can’t be more appreciative of having a coach like him by my side and having my back.”
Bynum shared that coming to Providence has changed his life and his basketball career. In turn, he has
helped change the fortunes of the Friars this season as the point guard that so many were ready to write off has crafted a different story for himself, and his team, this season.